Sleepless in Standing Rock

Photo by Jeffrey Putney | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Jeffrey Putney | CC BY 2.0

With the Nov. 1 explosion in Georgia of Colonial’s gas pipeline killing one, injuring five, and burning 31 acres, the $3.8 billion crude oil Dakota Access Pipeline project is looking dirtier than ever.

Last week, a colleague and I visited the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s nonviolent resistance encampment just north of Cannon Ball, ND — alternately called Seven Council Fire Camp and Sacred Stone Camp — which has gathered thousands of activists, Indian and non-Indian, from 300 indigenous nations in the Americas and around the world, in the words of tribal chairman David Archambault, “in solidarity against the pipeline.”

The difference — so far — between the Georgia and Dakota disasters is that up north only the militarized police forces are endangering life and limb — repeatedly attacking and relentlessly harassing the large, well-organized, encampment of peaceful, nonviolent and mostly prayerful self-proclaimed Water Protectors.

Beyond the eco-disaster threatened by running DAP’s 30-inch oil pipe under the wide Missouri River near Cannon Ball, Standing Rock is opposed to the DAP’s desecration of cultural heritage sites and burial grounds by way of its enormous ditch digging machinery. The firm Energy Transfer, based in Texas, is digging the 1,172-mile trench to move Bakken and Three Forks oil field crude south.

Driving south to the camp from Mandan, police and State Patrol officers had set road blocks across Hwy 1806, so no one could reach Standing Rock from the north. State Troopers told us to drive around on “136.” When we found that gravel road, it too was blocked by deputies, this time from Vilas County in eastern Wisconsin — almost three states away.

Our last attempt to reach the camp from the west was blocked by Washington County, Wisconsin deputies (from Milwaukee) who openly complained about their assignment. Asked if they’d tried the buffet at the casino, they griped, “We’re doing 12-hour shifts for two weeks straight; then they’re sending us home. No time for anything else.” Protests against the use far flung police forces have occurred in Minneapolis and elsewhere.

We arrived at camp Oct. 27 just a few hours after hundreds of national guard, state patrol, deputy sheriff and municipal police officers from seven states, some carrying assault rifles, had attacked the blockade or “frontline” camp using armored vehicles, pepper spray, mace, tear gas, beanbag guns, stun guns, concussion or flash-bang grenades, noise cannon, rubber bullets, armored Humvees and a bull dozer. The assault ultimately saw 143 arrested at the site, about three miles north of the major Standing Rock encampment.

In the aftermath of the military-style clearing action, a few dozen gathered around a large campfire and listened to speaker after speaker describe the traumatic affects the police riot had had on children of the front-line camp. We heard elders and organizers repeatedly appeal for strict adherence to nonviolence. In the long-standing tradition of peaceful revolutionaries everywhere, speakers offered prayers not just for the 143 battered arrestees, including a pregnant 17-yr-old — who were reported sent to scattered and distant jails, kept in dog-kennels without furniture, and subjected to the Nazi-like numbering of their arms with permanent markers — but prayed also for the arresting police that they might overcome the stress and trauma disorders that result from perpetrating violence.

The one night we spent tenting out in the Seven Council Fire camp was mostly sleepless because of the police airplane that maintained an eight-hour-long buzzing of the camp. Once we’d fall asleep, the plane would roar overhead and wake us again. One middle-aged woman we tented near, who’d grown up on the Standing Rock Res, told us she’d been on site since mid-April and that the planes, drones and helicopters were overhead every night since June. I wondered how anyone managed to sleep through the noise and about the general level of harassment-induced stress.

A day after the police riot, Amnesty International dispatched a team of human rights observers to the Standing Rock to monitor police conduct the standoff.

The Standing Rock struggle has inspired thousands to join the camp, and organizers repeatedly urged others to join them, get ready for winter, and help stop the pipeline.


Most news reports note that the North Dakota crude oil headed for the DAP will be pumped to Patoka, Illinois. But this is not the end point. Catherine Ngai and Liz Hampton reported for Reuters Aug. 12 that the oil is going to Gulf Coast refineries from which it can be shipped anywhere, debunking claims that the project is about energy for the United States.

Reuters said: “The 450,000 barrel-per-day Dakota Access line, when it opens in the fourth quarter, will [provide] U.S. Gulf refiners another option for crude supply. Gulf Coast refiners and North Dakota oil producers will reap the benefits….

“The pipeline, currently under construction, will connect western North Dakota to the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline Project (ETCOP) in Patoka, Illinois. From there, it will connect to the Nederland and Port Arthur, Texas, area, where refiners including Valero Energy, Total and Motiva Enterprises operate some of the largest U.S. refining facilities.”

Bloomberg reported Aug. 3, “A unit of Enbridge Inc. and Marathon Petroleum Corp. have agreed to pay a combined $2 billion in cash for a stake in the Bakken pipeline system from an affiliate of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners. … The deal gives Enbridge the ability to move shale oil from the Bakken to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, through connections to its mainline….

 The Bakken pipeline system consists of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline. Dakota Access will run from western North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, and the Energy Transfer line from Patoka to Nederland, Texas.”

— Researcher Mina Hamilton compiled information on the Gulf Coast endpoint for the DAP oil.

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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