Close to Home: Standing with the Standing Rock Sioux
More than 500 people marched in silence through Santa Rosa on Dec. 4 in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors who have been putting their lives on the line at the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The vigil was timed to coincide with 2,000 veterans arriving at Standing Rock to act as nonviolent “human shields” for the water protectors, who had suffered a violent onslaught at the hands of the fossil fuel industry, with dogs, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons in sub-zero temperatures and militarized police from six states. There has been a massive groundswell of support for the water protectors in Sonoma County and around the world.
The tribe's fundamental human rights and rights as a sovereign nation have been violated. As with so many other Native American tribes, they have been swindled, cheated and lied to for years with repeatedly broken treaties and forced displacement. In an egregious example of environmental racism, the pipeline was rerouted away from Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, through Sioux lands, after Bismarck's mainly white residents rejected it as a threat to their water supply.
A leak from the 1,200-mile pipeline, slated to pass under the Missouri River, would threaten the lives of millions of people downstream and thousands of acres of farming, ranch lands and wildlife habitat. For the Standing Rock Sioux, the Earth is their mother, and protecting her is a spiritual responsibility. The water is her blood and the streams and rivers are her veins. We and the generations to come cannot live without water, the water of life.
The unprecedented convergence of more than 100 tribes, with indigenous people and their allies from all over the world, unites the struggle for indigenous rights and sovereignty with the movement for environmental justice, the protection of the right to clean water and growing concern about climate change and the role of the fossil fuel industry.
Greenhouse gas emissions are escalating, and average world temperatures have been hitting record highs every year. According to climate scientists, using all the oil already available, even without exploiting new reserves, will start a cascade of repercussions that will threaten our survival. The oil needs to stay in the ground.
As protestors gathered outside Citibank in Santa Rosa, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied to Energy Transfer Partners the easement that would allow it to complete the pipeline. An environmental impact assessment will be required, with full public input and analysis. Cheers erupted, while in North Dakota veterans put down their helmets and riot shields to dance in celebration with their hosts.
In an unprecedented historic moment, veterans asked forgiveness of the tribal elders for the damage done to them throughout history.
But this is far from the end of the story. Energy Transfer Partners' CEO Kelcy Warren and President-elect Donald Trump, who, until recently, held considerable assets in the $3.8 billion pipeline, are adamant that it will go ahead. The day after the Army Corps of Engineers made its announcement, Energy Transfer Partners began legal action to overturn it.
However, delays have already cost the company $450 million. The largest bank in Norway has withdrawn its assets. The Dakota Access Pipeline is contractually obligated to complete by Jan. 1, and if it does not, contractors could pull out, incurring further losses.
According to Lakota prophecy, a black snake will come to destroy the world. In the seventh generation, the youth will rise up to fight it. The pipeline is the black snake, and the youth are rising with extraordinary courage and determination.
Now the black snake is wounded, but it is not yet dead and the fight to come may get even harder.
Adam Villagomez, a member of the Dakota Sioux/Chippewa, lives in Sonoma County and works at the Sonoma County Indian Health Project. He is part of a local group that took food and medical supplies to Standing Rock during Indigenous People's Day. Jenny Blaker, a Cotati resident, is a member of Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux of Sonoma County.