On Wednesday November 9th, over 300 supporters gathered at Confederation Square to show solidarity for the people in North Dakota who are standing up against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The gatherers joined hands in support for “people over pipelines”, “planet over profit” and the belief that “water is life”. These were just a few of the powerful words recited by land and water protectors, environmentalists and oil sands opponents who chanted, sang, drummed and danced in peaceful resistance.
The group marched from Confederation Square through George Street, Hunter Street, and back to the Square through Water Street with signs reading “We can’t drink oil!”, “Respect the treaties” and “In solidarity with Standing Rock”, halting traffic and spreading awareness about the issues in North Dakota. Despite city police arriving to block off streets, the rally remained peaceful and safe.
The water protectors and noDAPL’ supporters at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota continue to contest the completion of a $3.8 billion, 1100 mile fracked-oil pipeline, despite violent arrests, inhumane treatment and continued threats from armed police and government forces. The peaceful resistance rallies occurring throughout USA and Canada aim to stop the DAPL project and protect the Missouri River; the longest river in North America. This is the prime water source for the Standing Rock Sioux community as well as the millions of people who depend on it.
Construction of the DAPL threatens biodiversity and endangers a crucial source of fresh water. According to the Reuters analysis of U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data, “over the last six years, there have been 466 incidents where a pipeline carrying crude oil or refined products has leaked”. The pipeline will put millions of people’s drinking water at risk of contamination.
Building the pipeline is not simply an environmental issue. It is also a matter of Indigenous rights being neglected. The Sioux community in Standing Rock are facing systemic violence which is part of the continuous oppression towards Indigenous people. Indigenous communities and other marginalized groups are disproportionately targeted for resource extraction and energy development practices, with 35% of U.S. fossil fuels development projects located either directly on or near Indigenous land. The construction of the DAPL would impact treaty-protected land, sacred burial grounds to the Standing Rock Sioux, and other Indigenous nations. A deteriorating regulatory system has allowed environmental safety and the rights of Indigenous people to fall through the cracks.
Proponents of the project say the pipeline will boost the economy, creating thousands of construction jobs, but finding a way to reconcile these benefits is becoming increasingly difficult. Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Canada, on oil sand exploitation in general, argues this is due to the “direct, cumulative and irreparable damage the oil sands have left on the lands, waters, climate, species, people and, ultimately, treaty agreements and Indigenous rights.”
To install the pipeline disputes the deep-rooted standard of international human rights, including unrestrained, prior and informed consent, which should be an intrinsic part of government operations.
In early September, the Standing Rock Sioux community made an injunction request to stop the pipeline’s construction, but this was later rejected. Last week, construction reached the river and the pipeline is planned to be buried 92 feet below the river’s surface.
A water protector at the Peterborough gathering commented, “I’m happy because of the amount that turned out. It means people actually care. We blocked the road, we reached out further in the Peterborough community to grow awareness and people are honking to show their support. We’re speaking up for the voiceless; the water and the land.”
Another speaker said, “We gather on this land to show our support for our relatives. This is a troubling time. We face injustices and oppression on a daily basis. This has been occurring since colonisation. People are showing they believe in standing up for the earth. We were given a choice. Everything else in creation does not; we can either go with the rest of creation or go against it. There can be action or inaction. At this point in history, we need to stand up, as our ancestors have stood up before us. Our fellow humans at Standing Rock are facing immeasurable suffering. The least we can do is show our part. There are rights we can exercise. We speak for the earth. Who else is going to do that?”
The corruption, calculated ignorance within profit-hungry companies, lack of protection to international human rights standards and the irreversible ecological effects revealed by projects like these mean more and more voices are standing up to denounce them. The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline has a dark outlook, one which fails to respect lands, waters, climate, species, people and unique Indigenous rights. As Deranger argues, “Economic development at the expense of people and the planet makes no sense. We must push for change.”