BY KASEY CHEN
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
UAS community members gathered in the courtyard on October 9 with picket signs reading, “Stand with Standing Rock,” and, “Water is Life,” to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in solidarity with the Sioux Tribe in Standing Rock, North Dakota. The plans for the $3.7 billion pipeline have it spanning 1,172 miles of land from the Bakken Region of North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois with the aim of transporting light, sweet crude oil across the route. Although those in favor of the pipeline claim that it will run exclusively through privately owned land, this area has a tumultuous history that leaves the right to build murky.
At UAS, the rally began with statements from representatives of the Wooch Een Student Leadership Group who organized the event. Alicia Oscar, a co-chair of the organization, welcomed the crowd and introduced her group, a fixture on the UAS campus for the last 24 years. She highlighted their contribution of the Raven and Eagle Poles on campus, and her group’s advocacy for Native languages.
Next on the mic, Áak’w Kwáan representative Francis Houston stated, “As Alaskans, we support each and every one of the Native Americans and what they fight for. The main thing is united we stand.” Houston joins over 150 tribes in their support of the Standing Rock Sioux.
Many members of these tribes travelled to the DAPL construction site to engage in peaceful protest. There, they were met with security guards bearing attack dogs and pepper spray as portrayed in Amy Goodman’s video segment for Democracy Now. Many of the protesters were sprayed with pepper spray, bitten by the dogs, or physically thrown down. Goodman was charged with rioting after the footage was released, but the judge ruled there was no probable cause.
The pipeline route runs within half a mile of the Sioux reservation, and threatens to pass through Native burial sites and sacred places. This violates the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which was created to protect areas of historical significance. Construction on the pipeline may have already destroyed some sacred Sioux sites despite the tribe filing for an injunction.
Even though the Sioux do not currently own the land according to U.S. law, those looking to perform construction on the land legally must consult the tribe first even if the land in question is far removed from a reservation. This is because the site of a reservation may have shifted over time for various reasons, and precious artifacts may still remain on the land. In the case of the DAPL, the Sioux felt as if they were not properly consulted, and they believe construction may have already destroyed artifacts and sacred sites on the pipeline route.
One major concern for protesters was that the pipeline would deprive the Sioux tribe of clean water. Running under the Missouri river where the tribe sources most of its water, a rupture in the pipeline could contaminate the water rendering it unusable. This was one of the deciding factors in the ultimate rejection of the fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline in 2015.
The land under the pipeline route has been a subject of debate for around a century and a half dating back to the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which named the Sioux the rightful owners of the land. A little over a decade later, the U.S. government retook the land after the Great Sioux War. In 1980, the court ruled that the land was taken unjustly and ordered that the U.S. government compensate the Sioux, a payment that they declined in order to further pursue possession or co-ownership of the land.
Around 50 UAS community members made an appearance at the event to show their backing. “We talk about the university being a place to learn, to engage, and to bring change,” said Chancellor Rick Caulfield. “Tomorrow we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, not Columbus Day, and that’s because the work of our students and all of you in making that change,” he continued.
The Standing Rock Sioux are hoping to halt construction on the pipeline, but their request for injunction has been denied at this point. They have expressed that they will not back down from their effort to stop the project from continuing, and members of the UAS community have pledged their continued support.
“U.S. Court of Appeals Rules against Standing Rock Tribe in Dakota Access Pipeline Case.” Native News Online. N.p., 09 Oct. 2016. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.
“The Legal Case for Blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.
“Press Freedom Victory: Riot Charges Dropped Against Amy Goodman Over Dakota Pipeline Coverage.” Democracy Now! N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.