As Violence at Standing Rock escalates call to Obama to end Police Brutality and Defund DAPL goes International
On November 15th 2016, in the rain, over 200 people peacefully gathered on the doorstep of the US Embassy in London to demand that President Obama’s Army Corps of Engineers, and the Administration incoming in January 2017, put a stop to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). This was in line with a call out from indigenous frontline water protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota for an national day of solidarity on 15th November – which instead went global.
Hundreds of people in London joined by thousands of allies across North America, Europe and beyond, taking to the streets to tell the President Obama and the U.S. government to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The general feeling in London was, being that we were there in defence of water, a little rain was actually very appropriate – and also was nothing compared to the weather conditions those on the frontline in Standing Rock are enduring for us all, as the Sacred Stone Camp prepares for a North Dakota winter with its notoriously harsh subzero conditions. And at the start of this week, we have heard the disturbing reports of rubber bullets, water cannons and pepper spray being deployed with militarized force on unarmed, peaceful water protectors.
This was the 2nd ‘emergency’ direct action co-organized by the newly formed Sacred Stone Camp UK Solidarity Network, and veteran grassroots group UK Tar Sands Network in response to a dramatic escalation of violence towards unarmed, peaceful water protectors that began on the 27th October. With over 1.5 million people ‘checking in’ to Standing Rock in the days following that display of brutality – and the hundreds of solidarity demonstrations across the world on the 15th November – these direct actions in the UK are part of what frontline water protector and spokesperson Dallas Goldtooth has called an ‘historic moment of resistance’, and a global movement that is ‘growing stronger by the day.’
This movement has not been without its successes though, as we shall explain, we still have a long road to walk ahead before we can hold a ‘victory march’.
On 14th November – one day before the international call for solidarity – the U.S. Army Corps announced it will not grant an easement to allow completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline: allowing them time to ‘further examine concerns’ raised by the Standing Rock Sioux. These concerns include the obvious environmental risks, as well as the destruction of sacred sites by the developer (Energy Transfer Partners) within that pipeline easement – sites whose existence were recorded in court documents just one day before their destruction took place. Thus, one could very reasonably argue that it happened not by chance, but deliberately and/or recklessly – and U.S. federal law prohibits issuance of a permit if a developer intentionally destroys protected sites: a matter that will be brought to court by the Stand Rock Sioux’s legal team.
However, given that all this is happening in defiance of U.S. law to begin with – namely the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1851 – one might question whether legality (let alone justice) is even a consideration. Not only for the companies involved, but for the U.S. government: which was itself established on colonialism, and the concomitant genocide of the very indigenous peoples who are fighting DAPL, and for their continued exploitation/erasure today.
Indeed, DAPL was originally planned to be routed through the capital city of Bismarck – but when the predominantly white residents there protested because of concerns to protect THEIR drinking water, it was decided yet again that the lives and lands of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island were to be sacrificed to the ‘needs’ of dominant Euro-North American capitalist society.
What makes this all the more shocking is that because of the legal standing of the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1851, the Obama administration could essentially stop all of this with the simple stroke of a pen – but it has so far not done or said anything to indicate that the long tradition of treaty breaking will NOT be continued in this instance.
Indeed, Obama and the whole of the U.S. state/federal government apparatus has stood silent not just in the matter broken treaties, but in the face of Brownshirt levels of brutality enacted against peaceful water protectors by police and private DAPL security.
These human rights abuses have been disregarded by all, however.. Along with allies across the world, the UN has taken notice and recently sent observers to monitor the situation on multiple occasions. In September, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (Victoria Tauli-Corpuz) cited serious risks to drinking water and potential destruction of the tribe’s lands, and called for DAPL’s end. She also noted that the tribe has been denied access to information, and was excluded from consultations during the planning stages – which is a violation of both The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the international legal principle of ‘Free, prior and informed consent’ (FPIC).
Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, also called for the project’s cessation, and concluded in his recent report that the nearly 400 people who were held in detention during demonstrations have suffered “inhuman and degrading conditions”: stating that he is “concerned over both the scale of arrests and the conditions in which American citizens are being held” – including “marking people with numbers and detaining them in overcrowded cages, on the bare concrete floor, without being provided with medical care.”
It is therefore not difficult to see how this situation (the physical brutality, the destruction of sacred items/land) is part of an ongoing colonialism and genocide which has been perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island for over 500 years – and that unless some intervention is made, that genocide will continue so as long as indigenous bodies continue to stand in the way of the U.S. acquiring indigenous land and resources.
Since 2009, there has been a growing international solidarity movement to work with frontline indigenous communities who are challenging the violence of colonialism, by peacefully targeting banks, corporations, and governments. Recently, the UK Tar Sands Network (UKTSN) took action at Canada House to highlight international concern over the failure of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau to respect indigenous rights, and take the threat of climate change seriously by not approving the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. Indigenous leaders have stated that if the pipeline should ahead, they can expect 20 ‘Standing Rocks’ in Canada.
All of the horrors at Standing Rock have occurred under Obama – another supposedly ‘liberal’ political figure/leader. Thus, the implications of a Trump presidency are extremely worrying to frontline protectors at present, and it is felt that it’s essential that as much is done and formalized before the new administration takes over in January. Obama’s recent cancellation of oil and gas leases on the Blackfeet tribe’s sacred grounds shows that he still might be reasoned with: whilst Trump’s considered appointments of oil execs to key positions (including the Energy Department), and a recent proposed bill by Republican Washington State Sen. Doug Ericksen – which would create a new crime of “economic terrorism” targeting ‘protestors’ – do not bode well for the future of environmental/climate justice.
Indeed, whilst the felony charge were recently thrown out against 139 water protectors arrested during the escalation of police violence on 27th October, not only are they still charged with misdemeanor counts of engaging in a riot and maintaining a public nuisance, but Judge Feland made a point to note that “the court recognizes the extreme stress under which law enforcement officers and the prosecutors bringing these charges have been operating. This order should not be considered a criticism of their efforts or a suggestion the arrest in this matter was not appropriate.”
After the escalation of violence last Sunday and the threat of eviction on December 5th, now more than ever we need to continue to build this international movement centred around the indigenous peoples on the frontlines of the fight against DAPL, and indigenous movements globally who are leading the climate justice movement. As we saw on the November 15th call to action, the world was ready to stand with Standing Rock – now is the time to up the ante! If you are part of the divestment movement, bring your networks and power to stand behind the peaceful water protectors and demand HSBC, RBS and Barclays pull out the DAPL in light of the rampant human rights violations being carried out by the company U.S. government agencies.
As UK based Mohawk/Comanche/Apache activist Kiaza BigMountain Fillmore stated:
“As far as where the movement is going in general I think it’s no surprise that indigenous people are leading the way in environmental protection and demanding action to curb climate change. It’s indigenous peoples around the world who understand the connection to the land better than colonists to those places, and sometimes it is indigenous peoples who feel the effects of climate change and environmental destruction first. Many nations are returning to old ways and often never left them in the first place. These are ways that depend on the weather, the local wildlife, the water, the plants, the soil, all of which are subject to disruption as the climate changes and when those in power meddle in the delicate balance. Living in a more sustainable ways that rely on the environment defies the way that capitalism has structured the colonized world. Colonizer logic dictates that the land and all that is on it belongs to them and that they should be able to take and use as they desire, rather than to protect out of either care or self-preservation. It is that greed that fuels the continued genocide of Native Americans. The continued encroachment on the land we are “allowed” to live on, the continued polluting of the air and ground, the continued limiting of our traditional foods, they are all ways that the culture is killed off in favor of colonist ways of life. When the culture is killed it becomes easier for us to be assimilated which is the preferred method now that outright slaughter is considered crude, though we are only just over 100 years away from when massacring Natives was considered a virtue worthy of the medal of honor.”
Founder Sacred Stone Camp UK Solidarity Network
Member of IAGS