I went down the rabbit hole. Day after day I watched tweets and live video. I scanned for news (there wasn’t much) and I tried to untangle what is happening at Standing Rock. (If you don’t think it is tangled, you aren’t paying attention.) I conversed with friends and strangers, I searched for my own biases. I was offered a trip up there to see it for myself and I seriously considered (perhaps am still considering) the journey.
Standing Rock is set up to be a battle on many fronts. This battle is between several (seemingly) opposing forces: Oil and water. Industry and environment. White man and tribe. Profits and protection. Government and the people. Us versus them. Corporate interests against individual will. And on, and on.
The silence from the news media is almost deafening. Instead of being able to find accurate and explanatory timelines, there is nearly nothing. When documents and procedures from the last few years should be in the public eye, the news cycle remains almost dark. When video should give us a line of sight, we see little. The purpose of journalists should be to help us understand complex situations and offer us news in proportion to national importance. But, right now, I can’t NOT see Donald Trump and I can’t find anything on Standing Rock that helps it make sense.
So, in an effort to inform and empower, here is what I have been able to discover about Standing Rock. And, we have to go back to the 1800s to get it started. . .
Standing Rock History Matters
If you have ever taken a basic history class you know this: White settlers came to America, took over land, formed and broke treaties, and a reservation system was created. This flow directly affects what is happening at Standing Rock (you thought this was just about water or oil, didn’t you?)
During the timeline of settlement, states were formed, including North and South Dakota where so many of us are focusing intently. Have you ever heard of leaders like Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull? Or the battle at Wounded Knee? These are the same tribal lands, same historical context that we see now. This is all part of the Great Sioux Reservation which was formed because of a treaty agreed on in April of 1868 which was then nullified with the Indian Appropriations Act of 1876 and the Black Hills Act of 1877 which created reservations.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s several shifts of land happened where settlers claimed land, diverted water, flooded reservations by damming for irrigation and more. Then, in 1908 The U.S. Supreme Court determined that tribes maintained access and control of water within original treaty territory. It’s called the Winters Doctrine. Since the Oceti Sakowin had the 1851 and 1868 treaties, they had control of the Missouri River, which is where we see the conflict developing now at Standing Rock. According to the book Tribal Water Rights by John Thorson, and quoted from this article, “This case set the standard for the United States government to acknowledge the vitality of American Indian water rights, and how rights to the water relate the the continuing survival and self-sufficiency of American Indian people.”
But, we can’t count on that being the end of the story, can we?
Thirty-six years later there was massive flooding and Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1944 (aka the Pick-Sloan Plan) which authorized the building of five dams on the Missouri. 309,584 acres were taken through eminent domain affecting seven of the Oceti Sakowin tribes. Tribes were forced to relocate (again), and native lands were flooded because of the dams. Because of the Pick-Sloan Plan the Army Corps of Engineers now claims sole jurisdiction over the river and it’s shoreline, despite that the forced move and destruction was against treaties upheld by the 1908 Supreme Court decision. Also despite the historical significance of the river, including sacred areas that have been flooded into nothingness.
But we aren’t done. Through the 50s recognition of the tribal lands was terminated and states were given criminal and civil jurisdiction over native land. (See House Concurrent Resolution 108 and Public Law 280, 1953). Mass relocation started in 1956 as thousands were taken from reservation land and sent to urban centers. (See Indian Relocation Act, 1956).
You have probably heard of Black Power, but have you heard of Red Power? That was the organization of the National Indian Youth Council and the American Indian Movement to fight back this oppression. Standing Rock isn’t seeing its first mass organization in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. In 1973, and 1974 gatherings at Standing Rock and Wounded Knee were primers for the founding of the International Indian Treaty Council. This is the foundation of the work with the United Nations that resulted in 2007s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Don’t assume it was peaceful. There was death and imprisonment as the tribes gathered in the 70s. Leonard Peltier is STILL imprisoned, accused of murdering two officers. Over 60 people were murdered. It is largely held that the FBI, present during this time, looked away as crimes were committed. There have even been claims that the FBI supplied ‘vigilantes’ with ammunition. (If you are watching Standing Rock closely, this might sound familiar because of how well armed the police there are. See Other Risks and Considerations below for info.)
UPDATE: Here is a map that puts all of the above history, and current pipeline, into context. It’s from a cartographer who has been to the camp and created it for context. Read his post HERE. Pay attention to the legend on the map to get the full picture.
Have you noticed we haven’t mentioned oil yet?
Planning the DAPL – Communication Breakdown
The Dakota Access Pipeline is supposed to be a 1,172 mile pipeline that would take oil from the Bakken and Three Forks area to Illinois. The size of the pipeline, 30-inches in diameter, would transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day, sometimes more. The pipeline is a $3.7 billion project which is supposed to employ between 8,000 and 12,000 people during construction.
The pipeline does not cross what is today considered Standing Rock reservation, it comes within ½ a mile of it. Your personal take on if the land boundaries should be different based on the historical context above may argue this point, but the United States District Court for the District of Columbia states that the DAPL runs within ½ mile of reservation land. Therefore, the US District Court holds that 99% of the pipeline crosses private land.
As a domestic project, the DAPL doesn’t need to go through an extensive federal appraisal and permit process. Actually, it barely needs any permitting at all. It only needs to go through permitting for federally held waters. Recall from above that The Army Corps of Engineers currently claims responsibility for the waters and shoreline. Therefore, the Corps needed to offer permits under the Clean Water Act and/or the Rivers and Harbors Act. The permit for this was offered under the general permit known as Nationwide Permit 12.
Being that this is a national permit, it is subject to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 which means the project needs to be evaluated for its effect on property of historical significance, including cultural or religious significance to Indian Tribes. However, the DAPL specifically was planned to only need federal approval for 3% of the land, and only 1% of the pipeline “was set to affect U.S. waterways.” This is important and why the majority of the pipeline can be complete while we are watching Standing Rock happen simultaneously.
The plan for the DAPL – and the way it avoids federal regulations, goes through private property and parallels already-existing utility lines – puts the control of the DAPL into the Dakota Access company’s hands. Not unlawfully, deftly. According to court documents: “Using past cultural surveys, the company devised DAPL’s route to account for and avoid sites that had already been identified as potentially eligible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
After the path was determined, the company did a cultural survey of it’s own. Again, according to the legal filing: “Professionally licensed archaeologists conducted Class II cultural surveys” and in some cases they did Class III surveys. These surveys identified 149 potential sites of historical significance in North Dakota, 91 of which potentially had culturally significant stone features. The route was modified to avoid all 91 stone features and all but 9 of the other found sites. Plus, plans to mitigate the effect on the remaining 9 sites were put into place. In addition, the Pipeline tracks where pipelines and utility lines already exist, according to them, to mitigate disturbances.
If you have only been following DAPL and Standing Rock since August’s protests began, then it is important to step back into the process of planning the pipeline. The tribe currently claims that they were not adequately consulted on the pipeline and that it affects tribal lands (as well as making arguments about water protection). According to court documents, representatives were invited to be involved at meetings held by Dakota Access, though, through communication breakdowns happening for almost a year, were often not present or didn’t confirm appointments to discuss the pipeline. Take this paragraph from the opposition filing:
The Corps’ Tribal Liason, Joel Ames, accordingly, tried to set up a meeting with THPO [Tribe Historic Preservation Officer Waste’ Win] Young beginning around September 17, 2014, without success. [Court documents indicate five attempts by Ames to coordinate a meeting with Young in September 2014]. On October 2, other Corps personnel also sought to hold an arranged meeting with the Tribal Council and Dakota Access on the Standing Rock reservation. But when the Corps timely arrived for the meeting, Tribal Chairman David Archambault told them that the conclave had started earlier than planned and had already ended. Ames nevertheless continued to reach out to Young to try to schedule another meeting throughout the month of October. When the new meeting was finally held at the reservation on November 6, though, DAPL was taken off the agenda because Young did not attend.
That isn’t the only time the document states that the tribe was sought out concerning the pipeline during these initial months, but failed to respond. The opposition filing states that the tribe didn’t respond to soil-bore testing in November 2014, or requests for meetings into January of 2015. When the Corps finally heard from the Tribe Historic Preservation Officer, Young, it was February 25 and March 2, 2015 with letters requesting Class III and additional cultural surveys be done. By April 2015, Young had expressed concern that that proper procedures had not been followed and sought clarification on the process as well as stated that the tribe “opposed any kind of oil pipeline construction through our ancestral lands.”
You can see how murky things are getting. A complete communication breakdown was inevitable.
In August 2015, Chairman Archambault sent a letter to Colonel Cross – the Corps’ Commander and District Engineer for the Omaha District – stating frustration for not being contacted earlier regarding DAPL. In the same month, Young sent a letter reiterating concerns about previous work and said that sites might be overlooked or damaged unless Standing Rock Sioux were participants in the surveying.
I could literally go through month after month of letters back and forth between DAPL, the Corps and the Tribe, but it all comes down to the summer of broken communication. Meetings were offered, but not held, requests were made, but not upheld, efforts to express concerns may or may not have been received. By the end of the Summer of 2015, The Standing Rock Sioux were complaining about being excluded and also claiming that the DAPL was trying to “avoid federalization” and, therefore, further permitting and regulations.
Several pages of documentation show the back and forth and failure to achieve a meeting and plan forward for the DAPL. Sometimes requests were answered late, sometimes not all. Sometimes accusations were made, sometimes efforts were doubled-down.
When it all comes down, through, the tribe was not involved in the process. Whose fault that is . . . well, depends on how you look at the world, really. The Corps and DAPL made significant effort, but the tribe also doesn’t have the money, means or special training that the organization’s have. This causes some pretty significant imbalance. One example: After several months of requests for meetings and input, the Tribe asks for clarification on the process all together – keep in mind they had already been getting notifications from DAPL prior to this. When Chairman Archambault got involved – almost a year into the process – he claims that form letters and public meetings don’t meet the obligation of the Corps to consult with tribes. In the final months, there is confusion over the Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction and their completion of necessary research and inclusion. During this time Chairman Archambault also asserted that the Army Corp of Engineers “violated its own policy” by not holding an “active and respectful dialogue before decisions are made and actions are taken.”
From January to May of 2016 there were “no fewer than seven” meetings between the Tribe and the Corps. One of the most significant meetings during this time was one to discuss the tribal burial sites at the James River Crossing – the result of which was another movement of the DAPL to avoid the cultural area. In February and April, conversations between the Tribe and Colonel Henderson resulted in some changes to the DAPL plans. For example, double-walled piping would be used for a portion of the DAPL in response to the Tribe’s environmental safety concerns. By the Summer of 2016, communication breaks down again and it is clear the Tribe isn’t happy with the efforts or their level of involvement in the whole situation.
While three tribes went to conduct cultural surveys with the Corps on areas of private land (private landowners would be permitting the DAPL) and identified areas of cultural significance and even one site eligible for listing on the National Registry, Standing Rock refused to participate because of the surveys “limited scope.” In April, while the Corps and the North Dakota SHPO concurred that one site identified was not actually eligible for listing the Tribe objected formally stating that “To date, none of our requests for consultation or Class III Cultural Surveys has been honored.” They weren’t alone, The Advisory Council, responsible for ensuring compliance of the Army Corps of Engineers, also rejected some of the claims of the Corps. They said there were “numerous deficiencies in the . . . process” and said they were “perplexed by the Corps’ apparent difficulties in consulting.”
As if that wasn’t enough, as of July 25, 2016, there is a requirement for a “Tribal Monitoring Plan” that “requires Dakota Access to allow tribal monitors at all . . . sites when construction is occurring.” I can not currently verify if or how this is occurring.
In August and September of this year, The Tribe filed a declaration of additional historic properties not previously marked. These include significant areas within 75 and 150 feet of the pipeline. The next day, these areas were graded – destroyed – by DAPL. Dakota Access “Alleges that the route of the pipeline in this area proves its point: it twists and turns to avoid the findings that Mentz [a cultural surveyor] documents adjacent to the pipeline and thus demonstrates that Dakota Access did purposefully shift the route to avoid any sites of cultural significance in its planning phase.”
So, basically, here is what we’ve got: DAPL and Army Corps make significant efforts to include the tribe in the beginning, but the tribe doesn’t respond to their requests or attend planned meetings. Once the tribe starts responding, they aren’t in favor of the scope of the cultural tests and request more significant ones. By this time, the DAPL has been started and continues. There is confusion over jurisdiction and while the DAPL moves forward, the Tribes retains its concerns.
The DAPL Water Risk
So, now that you are internally battling historic wrong-doing versus the mess of modern bureaucracy, let me throw some environmental facts and stats into the mix. (I will literally give you a prize if you comment on this post and say “I got this far!”)
The United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world. It adds up to more than 2.4 million miles of pipe. Approximately 72,000 miles of crude oil lines in the U.S. connect various regional markets.
According to FactCheck.org, an average of 97,376 barrels (4.1 million gallons) of petroleum and other “hazardous liquids” have been spilled each year in pipeline incidents over the last decade. This comes from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. An average of two lives are lost and more than $263 million in property damage is incurred. Example, In 2010 a pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Michigan and by August 2013, more than $1 billion had been spent on clean-up.
However, pipelines are safer than rail transport. In 2013 an investigative report concluded that more oil spilled in the U.S. from rail tank cars than in all the nearly 40 previous years on record, combined. ProPublica described the pipeline vs. rail or truck scenario to driving vs. flying. While you are less likely to experience a plane crash then a car crash, when they do happen, they are much more disastrous than car crashes. When an oil pipeline does burst, the contamination is extensive and results can be catastrophic.
The DAPL pipeline is supposed to go under the Missouri River, sometimes as deep as 90 feet below. At this juncture, the pipe itself is heavier duty and block valves are located on both sides of the water crossing to protect the Missouri. Will it be enough? If the pipeline is finished, then only time will tell.
Other Risks and Considerations
Threats and Intimidation
In a video with The Young Turks, Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center talked about some of the additional concerns happening at Standing Rock. She includes that the cops in the area are arresting people for things like broken tail-lights and trespassing, which she claims are bogus charges. Her take is that the intention is to “chill the rights of others to come participate in these protests.” There is a constitutional right to assemble on public roadways, which is a line potentially being crossed by the police on site who are trying to break up the protests. Some of the action is occurring on private property, however, and many people feel this is what is actually wrong with these protests – that they in themselves are illegal. (See above history if you aren’t sure why there is a property conundrum here)
Military, Police and Security Forces
Regan also talks about civilian police and how they are hired by the private company to provide security for the project as well as how civilians are not supposed to be policed by the military, but there have been claims of the national guard being on site, powered by the declaration of a “state of emergency”. The Joint Terrorism Task Force may even be on site. As The Young Turks reporter observes, “Essentially it seems like you have out-of-state police, city police, state police, all standing to protect a private company’s pipeline.” This harkens back to the Keystone XL pipeline and a report by Alertnet that showed the pipeline company providing training to local police on how to charge protestors with terrorism. Regan also claims that the local law enforcement can/is receiving money and gear from the corporation to protect their interests, but is this because they didn’t have the resources as a rural police force to handle something of this magnitude…or is it because someone wants their interests protected? Someone needs to follow the money.
Imbalance of Power/Money
One major consideration is if the tribes here have the same financial and legal fire-power that the corporations have in this situation (see the bankroll below for Energy Transfer Partners). Regan shares that rural confrontations like this often include, on one side, a powerful organization that can call in great leverage – even working in conjunction with the state – while the other party – in this case the protestors – are taken advantage of because of lack of knowledge, lack of training, lack of access to legal counsel, etc.
Another thing that has come up several times, but is un-verifiable for me at this point, is that there may be active cell phone jamming so the protestors can’t get their message out. I can’t verify that this is happening, obviously, but the lack of communication from Standing Rock is frustrating and it has been mentioned by several people. By unverifiable, I simply haven’t seen the truck.
Journalists under Arrest
Most notably, Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! whose charges were dropped, but the argument still stands that journalists shouldn’t be arrested for reporting on a situation. That is basic media 101. The more you shut down the ability to gather information and inform the public, the less free that public.
If you look at all the Standing Rock protest websites, the protest is fully supposed to be “non-violent”. Their website specifically says that no weapons are allowed at the camp and that all attendees should come prayerfully and respectfully. In live videos I have watched, I have witnessed no weapons in the hands of the Standing Rock protestors, just police in full riot gear, with batons, backed by “light armored vehicles”, rubber bullets and mace.
UPDATE (11/2/16): At the request of a reader, I am adding details here about the apparent dog attacks that happened. In this video from Democracy Now you can see dogs attacking protestors. The incident is from September 3, 2016. At 1:13 into the video in the link you see protestors going over and through a fence between them and the bulldozers working nearby and then walking up through the turned over dirt towards the construction. At 1:53 you see a dog go after a protestor’s horse. Just inside 2 minutes, the report shows people being peppered sprayed. At 3:11 reporter Amy Goodman confronts a women who has a dog accused of biting a protestor.
However, some reports show that officials say officers have been injured and vehicles have been “torched”. The claim is that outsiders – people who have come from outside of the Standing Rock tribe to the protest – are the ones escalating the violence. UPDATE (11/1/16): Here is an example, reports from North Dakota show a 37-year-old women from Denver was arrested for firing shots at officers from a handgun as she was being arrested. She also had marijuana and brass knuckles on her. Here’s the article.
UPDATE (11/2/16): After this article was originally posted I received a message with a link to Sheriff Greg Champagne’s Facebook status who writes: “I was extremely privileged in the last several days to have the opportunity to travel to North Dakota as President of the National Sheriffs’ Association to see firsthand the protest and the response thereto . . . ” He goes on to say:
“Despite the statements coming from the media and protesters that they were completely peaceful and prayerful, it has been a fact that more militant protestors (terrorists) have destroyed property and physically beaten employees o the company in recent weeks. I personally witnessed and photographed what I estimate to be at least half of a million dollars in damage to bulldozers and excavators. I further learned that many protestors other than Native American groups have descended upon the area such as anarchists and eco-terrorists who are hell bent on committing violence and damage. The police presence in the area to protect farmers, ranchers and other private property interests have been costing the state of North Dakota millions of dollars. . .
I was present as law enforcement leaders including Sheriff Paul Laney met with leaders of the tribe. The tribal representatives lamented the violent and destructive behavior of ‘outsiders’ who had come in only to commit violence. they indicated that they would encourage these violent agitators to leave the camp and protest.”
Sheriff Champagne’s update also notes that few media news stories are mentioning the destruction of property, Malatov cocktails, or other violence. He also says that “protestors even cut fences and attempted to induce a domesticated buffalo herd to stampede through the area. The owners of the herd, whom I spoke with personally, indicated that at least a dozen of their buffalo were killed by protestors.”
Other reports question the tactics of the officers, saying they are using percussion grenades (sounds emitted that can cause nausea) and shotguns with non-lethal ammunition. Tasers have also been fired and one man, attacked with rubber bullets and the concussion grenade, fell off his horse. Images of an injured horse also cycled through social media.
UPDATE (11/4/16): This women was interviewing a man on camera when she was shot by police. You can see the video here:
— Erin Schrode (@ErinSchrode) November 3, 2016
According to an article published October 28th. Amnesty International has Human Rights Observers on the scene specifically to watch the interactions.
Just days after the “torched” vehicles, reports of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe trying to get a handle on things were published. Frank Archambault, cousin to Chairman Archambault (remember him from above?) said “We are trying to get a hold of the radicals and get them dismissed.”
Finally, The Money Trail
Here are the organizations behind the DAPL, for those who want to know (according to Food and Water Watch). The tribe is attempting to collect legal fees through social media, and the lawyer mentioned above is there from her organization which focuses on environmental law, but there is no significant source of money for the tribe that compares to this:
UPDATE (11/3/16): Democracy Now just released an article showing that another $4 million has been approved for the policing happening at the site. That means the total is $10 million for policing.
Across the Country
From social media posts checking in to Cannon Ball, ND that reached over one million to protests happening in several cities, there is a swell of activism rising around the DAPL events.
The first one I put into this update: UPDATE (11/2/16): Think Standing Rock is the only stronghold against DAPL? Think again. Farmers in Iowa have been battling and negotiating for 18 months. You can get stories from them on the BOLD Iowa website.
Here are the more recent events I have come across. I will attempt to create an ongoing timeline.
October 31: Oil is poured over the North Dakota capital building with a sign reading “You can’t drink oil.” (DN)
October 31: Hundreds flow into Grand Central Station in New York City during rush hour holding signs saying “Indigenous Sovereignty: Protect Land and Water.” (DN)
October 31: Over 1 million people check in to Cannon Ball, ND at the urging of a Facebook post that went viral claiming that it would confuse authorities who were watching social media to target individuals at the site. The police claim this isn’t an action they are taking. (Inside Climate News)
Standing Rock is set to be a historically significant moment in our history. I am going to let you draw your own conclusions about what side of history it is on.
If you have additional information, send it my way and I will incorporate it in updates. If you have questions, let me know what they are and I will do my best to get you good info.