Even though oil has begun to flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline, the monthslong battle against the controversial pipeline has fueled resistance against an economic system that puts corporate interests ahead of people’s rights, said Chase Iron Eyes, a Native American activist and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Speaking Monday afternoon to a packed crowd of students, faculty and local activists gathered at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Bertolini Student Center, Iron Eyes said the activism at Standing Rock has also energized political resistance against President Donald Trump, who green-lighted the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, and also resurrected the Keystone XL pipeline.
DAPL’s final segment was recently completed after Trump signed an executive order in January lifting President Barack Obama’s administrative opposition to the project. Obama rejected the Keystone project in 2015.
Iron Eyes said those who supported the movement against DAPL have a “responsibility, the duty to take what is powerful from Standing Rock, from the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers” and consider it a victory, even though the protest camps have been razed.
“A lot of times it can feel like a loss ... when you see the camps being raided, you see the tepees on fire,” Iron Eyes said. But what happened there is not in the past, because an international, spiritual epicenter or a monument was lit there.”
Iron Eyes, an attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project, spoke at length about how protests against the $3.8 billion oil pipeline were repeatedly met with a heavy-handed, military-style response. During his talk, Iron Eyes showed a video of activists being blasted with high-pressure water hoses and tear gas in night and daytime scenes that looked like foreign war zones.
“This is a low-level oil war going on right in our country,” he said, adding that activists “faced deadly force, people faced corporate-sponsored, state-executed” violence, and that the Keystone project will bring more of the same.
He said projects such as these continue to encroach on “our human birthrights, to be able to live, to be able to be responsible to those sacred covenants that require us to maintain these relationships with the land, the waters and the sacred sites.”
The talk was met with enthusiasm by the more than 350 attendees, many of them sitting on the floor or standing along the walls of the Bertolini Center’s main hall.
In his lecture, which was sponsored by the SRJC Student Equity Office and school’s Native American Student Council, Iron Eyes called on local residents to help support the legal defense of activists arrested during the DAPL protests.
He also encouraged local activists to pursue divestment strategies in financial institutions that support projects like DAPL and Keystone.
Debora Hammond, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Sonoma State University, said the lecture resonated with local efforts in support of DAPL activism.
Hammond, who is part of a group called Sonoma Solidarity with Standing Rock, said her group has been raising money for legal defense of DAPL activists facing criminal charges.
The group is also starting to look at ways of pressuring local governments to divest from financial institutions involved in the DAPL and Keystone projects. “He energized the resistance,” Hammond said. “He confirmed the sense of unity that has come out of the election.”