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Native Nations March on D.C. to Continue Fight for Environment, Treaty Rights

Auditi Guha

“This movement has evolved into a powerful global phenomenon highlighting the necessity to respect Indigenous Nations and their right to protect their homelands, environment and future generations. Now it’s time to take this to the doors of the White House.”

Two weeks after the camps were cleared and drilling resumed on the controversial Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) near Standing Rock, Native nations are marching on Washington, D.C., to continue the fight for their land, water, and treaty rights.

“Nine o’clock at night and we are still here,” said Aldo Seoane, a Native activist, during a video he recorded at a tipi camp set up near the Washington Monument on Tuesday night, as part of a multi-day action planned on the National Mall. “It’s just a really good calm, peaceful feeling here, as we are getting ready to greet our relatives. I’m just … overwhelmed. Every time we come to do something like this, it’s just awesome.”

“The Native Nations Rise March on Washington is proof that the Standing Rock movement is bigger than one tribe,” reads a statement from the Stand With Standing Rock site. “It has evolved into a powerful global phenomenon highlighting the necessity to respect Indigenous Nations and their right to protect their homelands, environment, and future generations.”

Since August, tribal nations and advocates have camped out at Standing Rock to protest the proposed 1,172-mile pipeline running within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation that would transport almost 500,000 barrels of oil per day. Tribal leaders fear the pipeline could leak, which would adversely affect the Missouri River—the source of their drinking water—and disturb sacred burial sites.

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Over these months the unarmed protesters, or water protectors as some call themselves, have faced militarized police and tanks in North Dakota, been teargassed and sprayed with water in sub-zero temperatures, and withstood arrests and injuries in what some say has become the largest Native movement in decades.

Last week, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and indigenous grassroots leaders announced actions in D.C. from March 7-10 to continue the momentum and take the fight to the White House. Their demands include that President Donald Trump meet with tribal leaders to discuss treaty rights, and add that consultation is not enough—tribal consent must be secured to forward projects like the DAPL.

Events include cultural workshops, speakers, and a grassroots tipi gathering—symbolic with no overnight sleeping-in—next to the Washington Monument, while indigenous leaders lobby for Native rights. The gathering will culminate in prayer and a march on Friday at 10 a.m. from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters to Lafayette Square at noon. The week of action will end with a closing ceremony on Saturday.

Keynote speakers include Dallas Goldtooth, a Keep it in the Ground organizer at the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Tara Houska, the national campaigns director at Honor the Earth. 

“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Indigenous grassroots leaders call on our allies across the United States and around the world to peacefully march on Washington, D.C.,” reads a statement on the Native Nations Rise website.

“Now it’s time to take this to the doors of the White House,” it continues.

The current administration, which includes climate change deniers, is no friend to the environment. President Trump has signed orders to roll back former President Barack Obama’s environmental protections. He is also pushing to drastically cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and cancel several programs like the Energy Star energy efficiency program, the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions, and the Environmental Justice program.

As the pipeline nears completion, Standing Rock activists and allies continue to fight for their rights, for the environment, and to hold this administration accountable.

Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind DAPL, began developing the $3.8 billion pipeline last spring to move domestically produced crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation to Illinois through four states. The Texas-based company’s plan to complete the pipeline by the end of last year was thwarted by the gathering protests, which stopped construction after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ denied the final easement required in early December.

The tribal victory was short-lived, however, as the Trump administration green-lighted the project in January. Shortly afterward, the Army Corps granted the easement. On Tuesday, a federal judge denied a preliminary injunction brought by the Cheyenne River Tribe to block DAPL.

“The fact remains that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has a legal right and a moral responsibility to protect the land, water and air, not only for their tribe but for the 17 million people who live along the Missouri River and therefore protect Mother Earth,” said Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance, in an interview on BillMoyers.com conducted after the Army Corps granted the easement on February 7. “Now we have to step up the pressure and in the next days there will be actions.”

The Native Nations Rise March on Washington continues the #NoDAPL push, states a news release at the Stand With Standing Rock site.

“They want us to believe the fight is over—but we can still win this. We can unite in peaceful, prayerful resistance against this illegal pipeline,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II in the release. “Now, we are calling on all our Native relatives and allies to rise with us. We must march against injustice—Native nations cannot continue to be pushed aside to benefit corporate interests and government whim.”

Several actions are planned in solidarity around the nation this week. Activist group Idle No More is marching in San Francisco on March 10 along with tribal nations; Native nations and allies plan to march on March 10 in Denver, Colorado; and a sign-waving action is planned in Kahului, Maui, on March 10. Native Nations Rise marches are also planned for March 10 in Lansing, Michigan; Phoenix, Arizona; and Providence, Rhode Island.

Worldwide events include a Netherlands action planned for March 9-11, and a March 10 march in Trondheim, Norway. Norway’s largest private investor announced last week that it was divesting from companies tied to DAPL. 

A group of military veterans also vowed to continue the fight and participate in the march after protesting in North Dakota.

“We are committed to the people of Standing Rock, we are committed to nonviolence, and we will do everything within our power to ensure that the environment and human life are respected. That pipeline will not get completed. Not on our watch,” said Anthony Diggs, a spokesperson for Veterans Stand, at TheIndigenousPeoples.com.

As the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Dallas Goldtooth put it, “Come what may, they cannot extinguish the fire that Standing Rock started. It burns within each of us. So let’s rise, let’s resist, let’s thrive.”

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