Last week in North Dakota, the world watched as militarized police forces descended on people opposed to the Dakota Access pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux, alongside water protectors from across North America, have camped out since April. The groups say they are collectively standing up for the Missouri River which is being threatened by the construction of the pipeline.
Sylvia McAdam Saysewahum, a land protector and one of four Idle No More founders, took leave from her traditional lands near Big River to travel to Cannon Ball, N.D. roughly 1,000 km south of Prince Albert. She called the experience powerful.
“For me, to be there, I don’t feel like I have to explain myself. We bypass that whole (process) of explaining why you’re there and why you’re making a stand,” Saysewahum said. “There’s people who weep for the water. You absolutely understand where they’re coming from.”
The pipeline is slated for construction under the Missouri River, which protectors say poses a huge risk to the Standing Rock Sioux drinking water and communities downstream. There have also been concerns raised regarding sacred burial sites, which protectors also say have been desecrated by the construction equipment.
Saysewahum was in the camps when a grassfire broke out on Saturday night.
She said the lack of response to the fire put the people in the camps at risk.
“When you get down to the core of it, the state of North Dakota refused to give permission,” Saysewahum said. “When you look at where the fire is and the border of Standing Rock, it was within, I’d say, two or 300 hundred feet. The truck from Standing Rock could have been there in seconds had North Dakota given permission.”
She commended the leadership within Standing Rock for how the fire was handled. She said leaders ensured the camp was locked down, and as safe as it could be with flames approaching.
Saysewahum said she was surprised by the mobilization of police forces in North Dakota. Even after hearing reports and seeing videos on social media, she said she still wasn’t prepared for what she saw.
“What I saw there is shocking. I am shocked by what I’ve seen there,” Saysewahum said. “Law enforcement has become, and has been for a long time in my opinion, an apparatus of the corporations enforcing extractive industry's agenda.”
According to Saysewahum, officers from multiple different branches of law enforcement and states were present, some heavily armoured, others sitting in Humvees and other military vehicles.
“My prayers are with the Standing Rock Dakota people who have shown and demonstrated incredible courage in the face of such mass mobilization of police and law enforcement,” Saysewahum said.
The Morton County Sheriff’s office has stated the protectors are on private land, and are therefore trespassing.
To date over 400 people have been arrested or charged with felony crimes since April.
A call to action
Saysewahum said she understands the desire for a pipeline, but argues for cleaner, alternate sources of energy. She advocated for Saskatchewan people of Treaty 6 to make a stand for their own resources.
“If we do not mitigate the destruction and the violence towards land and water then we’re in violation of our own laws as indigenous people,” Saysewahum said. “As grassroots people we need to quit voting people in that are signing away and making agreements sitting at table’s negotiation our sovereignty and our treaty terms and promises.”
After leaving early due to the outbreak of fire, Saysewahum said she plans to return to Standing Rock to continue to fight for the lands and water.
A case for the pipeline
The pipeline in question is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, a Dallas based oil-company. The Dakota Access pipeline looks to add an addition 1,200 miles to Energy Transfer Partners’ existing 71,000 miles in the United States. The company said the goal is to finish the Dakota Access Pipeline, which spans four states, by the end of 2016.
In August, 37 per cent of the line was sold to Enbridge for $2 billion.
According to Energy Transfer Partner’s website, the completed project would push an estimated 470,000 barrels of oil a day from the North Dakota oil patch. That number could be bumped up to 570,000 barrels.
The governor of North Dakota, Jack Dalrymple, called for more oil and gas production from the state. He has pushed for the construction of more pipelines to keep pace with the states’ oil productions.
On twitter: @BryanEneas
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