The controversy in North Dakota over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) construction is something that caught my eye when it started making my facebook feed a few months ago. Rights of native peoples, the environment, sovereignty, all are things that hold my caring, and how I even think about my work in disaster response. But there are aspects of the situation at Standing Rock that made me reluctant to jump on board to oppose construction; namely my reluctance was the hypocrisy to be shopping around for the lowest prices for flights, gas for my car, and cheap prices for day to day things that I inevitably buy in plastic containers, all dependent on crude oil…and then to at the same time be protesting the development of a pipeline similar to the ones that deliver fuel, heat, and stuff, as cheaply as I can find, to me.
This hypocrisy was not lost on Marathon Petroleum CEO Gary Heminger as he brought it up in his speech at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh this past September, “Despite the obvious truth that we make modern life possible, some activists try to portray fossil fuels—and the companies that produce, transport, and sell them—as villains,” he said.
So I thought I should understand this a little more before I started #standingwithstandingrock.
The pipeline being proposed would transport domestically produced crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. It would run just outside the Standing Rock Reservation and under the nearby Missouri River. Off the radar to many people, pipelines like the DAPL, run throughout the country and transport things like crude oil, natural gas, and refined oil. Pipelines run all over the country; check out this map.
I also woke up a little more to realize how much my life is entangled with oil and gas, for things like gasoline, propane, phones, plastic bottles, pharmaceuticals, eyeglasses, hoses, food containers, trash bags, fertilizers, to name a couple.
Standing Rock: Land and Water
Specifically the concerns of the Standing Rock Reservation and their allies are twofold, that the pipeline will desecrate sacred ground, and that it will run under the Missouri River, potentially creating drinking water contamination if the pipe ruptures. In regard to the desire of the Sioux to halt construction because it would go through sacred land, this map shows the boundaries of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851; The DAPL is in the southwest corner of North Dakota.
This map was provided by Kyle Whyte, Indigenous Climate Justice Scholar/Activist. Current boundaries of Native land in the Dakotas are only a small fraction of that land today. Click here for a map of how boundaries have changed over time.
Also, please read, “What’s Happening in Standing Rock” Outside Magazine Sept. 2, 2016.
“…This ground is the holiest place on earth right now.” This was the first time in his entire life that he’d taken part in any sort of protest or movement. I asked if he considered himself an environmentalist. LittleSun shook his head. “I don’t even know what that is.” It was as if I’d asked him if he were if a “skin-ist” or a “body-ist.” He simply didn’t think of himself as an entity separate from the earth.”
And please read “The Standing Rock Resistance is unprecedented (It’s also centuries old)” by Leah Donnella at NPR to learn how ceremony is a pre-colonial practice of gathering and can serve as protest as well. She describes how ten thousand gathered for ceremony at Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
The safety and environmental concerns about water contamination and other risks are threats no matter where the pipeline goes. Renewable energy like wind and solar power continues to become more and more economically feasible. Still, it seems there is little doubt that even if there is success in stopping the construction of DAPL on sacred tribal lands, that the pipeline will still be built; it will simply make its way to Illinois by a different route because there is still great interest on the part of energy companies to build pipeline infrastructure so that the cost of transporting fossil fuels stays low for decades compared to alternative renewable energy sources.
Pipelines in Pennsylvania
And so while it is likely the pipeline from the Bakkan oil fields will be built, there are some who demand the pipeline not be built at all, as a way to take a step toward disavowing our addiction to fossil fuel. For those among us that have that passion, then we cannot ignore pipelines right in our backyards. Just this past October, 55,000 gallons of gasoline spilled after a pipeline breach on the Susquehanna River near Williamsport. Contaminated drinking water was a concern. Another proposed pipeline drawing attention is the PennEast Pipeline from Luzerne County, PA to Mercer County, NJ. Here is the proposed route (near the Appalachian Trail) and concerns that the Appalachian Mountain Club has raised.
Moving Forward, #standwithstandingrock
I am with Bernie in continuing to increase investment in renewable energy like solar and wind. I’m happy and willing to pay higher prices while we transition mostly because I believe the true costs of pollution are not close to fully accounted for with fossil fuel extraction. Those who are on the margins of the economy, and the sea, are absorbing these costs as their island homes are disappearing. Isle de Jean Charles, home of a band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, south of New Orleans, has lost 98% of their land to water since 1950. Kiribati in the South Pacific has been in the news. The Alaska native villages of Shishmaref, Kivalina, and Newtok have already begun relocation plans.
Just changing our source of energy though, will not change our insatiable appetite for consuming, which seems destructive in how we take care of our own selves, families and communities. So while I will #standwithstandingrock, there is more to appreciate from the Sioux and their allies besides their valiant fortitude and perseverance. Simply cheering on the Native American effort seems to simply continue romanticizing a worldview that is considered by many to be antiquated. To the contrary, there is wisdom from the worldviews of native people for us as Westerners to appreciate. Teach me not to think of myself as an environmentalist, but to think of myself as the natural world; no separation. There are people from these traditions for us to listen to and who can teach us to appreciate and revere the land. Then our decisions about how to extract resources, how to make decisions about water rights, fossil fuel use, forests, agriculture…those decisions will be made more easily. Someone I was with recently said the question to people wanting to help should not be, “What can I do for you,” but to ourselves, “How much do I love you to change my way of living?” And while I’m all for progress as defined as increased well being and healthiness for all of us, including the air and water, plants and animals and people who have different world views than I do, I’m not a fan of progress that is at the expense of another. Something another friend said the other day made a lot of sense to me, “Simple is the cure for progress.”
“Maybe they are afraid of the truth-telling power of the people at Standing Rock and their busloads of allies, who are making clear that we live in an era of profound error that we mistakenly believe is the only way we can live, an era of insanity that we believe is the only way we can think. But once people accept with heart and mind that land is our teacher, our mother, our garden, our pharmacy, our church, our cradle and our grave, it becomes unthinkable to destroy it.” “The White Horse and the Humvees” by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Kathleen Dean Moore.