The Sioux Tribe that lives in the reserve called Standing Rock, located between North and South Dakota, in the northern part of the United States, has been the protagonist in recent years of one of the most significant and controversial environmental battles on the planet.
The enemy appeared in those contaminated lands under the name of the Dakota Access Pipeline: a nearly 2,000-kilometer long oil pipeline costing 3.7 billion dollars, the project of which was presented in June 2014 and whose construction began in June 2016 .
It immediately became obvious that the oil pipelines would have a devastating environmental impact on all the territories they were going to cross, and in particular those considered sacred by Native Americans.
Faced with this terrible fate, shortly before the start of the works the tribal and indomitable spirit of the indigenous population spontaneously merged into a protest movement led by young Sioux people who found, through social media, support from all over the world.
For months, from 1 April 2016 to 22 February 2017, the demonstrators occupied a place called Sacred Stone Camp, establishing it as the center of the peaceful resistance against the pipeline, and thousands lined up to defend the territory, also suffering the violent repression of the security agents of the oil company and the law enforcement.
Meanwhile, on July 27, 2016, the non-profit environmental organization Earthjustice began providing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe with all the necessary legal assistance free of charge, and so a lawsuit was first filed against the government bodies that had authorized the route of the pipeline, and later another against the oil company.
In December of the same year, still under the Obama administration, things seemed to be looking better when the pipeline route was rejected and an environmental impact assessment was ordered.
But Donald Trump, just four days after his inauguration in the White House, signed an executive order to resume work and reinforced the already heavy hand of the National Guard that proceeded to attack and arrest those in the camp occupied by the demonstrators.
However, justice was revived on June 14, 2017, when federal judge James Boasberg stated in an important ruling that the resumption of work imposed by the new President had violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the first US law on the environment, dated 1970, which the Trump administration had always opposed because it was considered an obstacle to economic strategies based on fossil energy.
Unfortunately, that sentence did not stop the operation of the pipeline, which instead happened a few months ago, in March 2020, when a federal court in Washington revoked the permits for the oil activity.
And on July 6 came the victory for which was fought for five long years: the federal judge himself ordered the blockage of the pipeline and its emptying by August 5 so that the technicians could work for 13 months on the calculation of the damage caused from any oil spills, so that future decisions could be based on scientific data; which means shifting the responsibility for any next action to the present US administration who is trying to invest $2 trillion in a new nationwide energy future and that, with an executive order just hours after Biden sworn in, revoked the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline previously authorized by Trump.
Also, in January The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit confirmed that the Army Corps of Engineers fell short of the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed Dakota Access to cross a federal reservoir in North Dakota—and that the violation warranted scrapping the easement.
And on April 23rd the same Court of Appeals rejected Dakota Access’ request for a rehearing to review the January decision.
Dakota Access LLC is now expected to push the case to the Supreme Court, though it will have to do so without the backing of the federal government, which didn’t challenge the D.C. Circuit decision.
The word “end” has not yet been spoken, but it certainly has told exciting chapters of painful and at the same time victorious environmental battles, showing how the success of the struggles for the environment passes through a strategy that is capable of contemplating contemporary and convinced adhesion of all forms of participation in social life: activism and the economy, research and justice, art and journalism.
And precisely with regard to journalism, we like to show this photo, taken on September 2, 2016 in the Sacred Stone Camp by Joe Brusky of the artistic collective Overpass Light Brigade, because it refers to the ability of the media to tell the truth or distort it.
Think about it, the traditional narrative seems to say the opposite every time, but this story reminds us that “we are protectors, not protestors …”
Cover photo: Joe Brusky – Sitting Bull over Protectors – (CC BY-NC 2.0)