Why Standing Rock could be a Custer moment for fossil fuels
Willow Aliento | 24 November 2016
OPINION: Right now in North Dakota, hundreds of Native American people are being shot at with rubber bullets, bombarded with tear gas and blasted by water cannon as they stand on their own sovereign land.
It’s the ugly face of fossil fuel fightback, a paramilitary police operation protecting private interests aiming to push the Dakota Access Pipeline underneath the Missouri River, risking not only the Standing Rock Sioux water supply but the watershed for all those that live downstream.
The oil industry, even in decline, is still acting as if it has the right to get the state to act as its bully boys.
We are talking millions of dollars of public funds being spent sending armed forces against a non-violent crowd that includes Elders, women and children.
The rate of injuries is becoming horrific – on the weekend, one young woman had to have an arm amputated due to the damage caused by a rubber bullet.
There have been reports that some of the law enforcement personnel are themselves appalled. Some have been handing in their badges. Some Sherriff Departments are refusing to send their people.
The project is expected to cost close to $4 billion and is being constructed by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The plan is for the pipeline to transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has gathered supporters not only from other tribes, but from members of the US clergy, climate change activists and ordinary people that support the Sioux position that “water is life”.
US Civil Rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson has attended the protests. Senator Bernie Sanders has too.
Hollywood star and climate activist Leonard DiCaprio has joined in the fight, as has the entire cast of The Avengers.
Mark Ruffalo, also the co-founder of renewable energy advocacy not-for-profit The Solutions Project, turned up with a donation of Navaho-made mobile solar power trailers.
Indigenous people from around the world have also backed the protest – the Sami, the tribes of South America, Celts in Ireland, the Maori, and Aboriginal Australians, Wiradjuri educator and former football and boxing legend Joe Williams among them.
Williams took the Aboriginal Flag to Standing Rock as part of a show of solidarity.
As a microcosm of the macrocosm of people for the planet versus people for the dirty fossil profits, Standing Rock matters.
The galvanising nature of the protest is having a ripple effect beyond simply bodies manning the front lines and Maori Hakas for Standing Rock going viral.
Last week, one of Norway’s largest banks, DNB, announced it has sold its stake in the project, a stake that amounted to 10 per cent of the project’s funding.
The reason given by the bank was an independent review of how the project was safeguarding indigenous rights.
Now the other backers, including Citigroup, Wells Fargo, SunTrust and TD securities are under pressure to pull the pin too.
Students at US and Canadian university campuses are calling for bank account holders to divest, and the Standing Rock Tribe have sent a treaty to 400 Indigenous nations across the US requesting they too withdraw funds from any financial institution backing the project.
In terms of Indigenous activism, this protest is creating an unprecedented level of unity.
Standing Rock is creating energy activism too, as exemplified by the comments of supporters from Oregon who delivered a gift of tiny homes made by people in his community, two solar power systems and a tonne of food.
The founder of True South Solar, Eric Hansen, who installed the solar systems he was donating saw the extremity of violence that occurred last weekend.
He told Yes! Magazine he has now redoubled his commitment to “energy activism.”
“The stakes are high. [Pipeline] spills are happening. It’s clear we need to focus on renewable energy,” Hansen said.
Standing Rock is just one battle among many being fought to protect the planet. What it highlights, however, is the power of each individual to contribute somehow to putting an end to fossil fuel madness.
It highlights the ability of people from different tribes, nations, backgrounds and religions to join forces and be stronger together than the power of greed and violence.
It shows the value of the small gestures, the acts of solidarity, kindness and conviction that together can change the world for the better.
The Lakota Sioux have a saying – we are all related.
That’s why Standing Rock matters even here in Australia, because we are one family, with one common homeland, and it is our job to protect it, together.
Whatever the front line is where we find ourselves – be it the bank, the superfund, the shopping centre, the polling booth, in our work or in the comment pages – that is where we make our stand.
#MniWiconi [Water is life]
Tags: Dakota Access Pipeline