The Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes say the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline across the reservation threatens their water supplies and will hurt sacred sites and culturally important landscapes. The company that built it says it will deliver jobs and support energy independence. Oil began flowing through the pipeline on June 1, but demonstrations at Standing Rock in 2016 made national headlines and galvanzied a movement to resist other fossil fuel projects.
“There were things that happened at Standing Rock that were so powerful,” says Pennie Opal Plant, co-founder of Idle No More SF Bay, an organization that stands for the rights of indigenous people, Mother Earth and the sacred system of life. She saw the resistance as part of a global shift away from capitalism’s insatiable appetite for natural resources. When an estimated 4,000 U.S. military veterans came to Standing Rock in the dead of winter to serve as a human shield for the people opposing the pipeline, she took it as inspiration for people everywhere “to stand up with all the love in our hearts for everything that we hold dear, for the earth, the water, the air and the soil and just what we need the basic things that we need to simply exist.”
Indigenous artist and activist L. Frank Manriquez, who went to Standing Rock three times, has a less sanguine view. “We swore to protect and defend against foreign and domestic,” she declares, “and this is about as domestic as it gets.” To her, standing up at Standing Rock was nothing less than fulfilling a mandate from the creator to defend that which was being attacked. “We've had people with guns shooting us, we've had airplane circling over us, you know, we've been at war.”
Yet despite the violence directed at the natives and their allies, and the health problems that ensured, Manriquez is adamant about the peaceful ways of the resistance, specifically rejecting the terms ‘demonstrator’ or ‘protestor’. “We were not protesting. We were protecting. It wasn't Indian trinkets and our wells, it’s 17 million people.”
Bloomberg energy reporter Lynn Doan echoes that feeling, insisting that “even if the media use the word ‘protester’, that the opposition there was looking for a peaceful approach to fighting this pipeline.” In fact she and her colleagues were taken aback by how quietly and quickly the demonstrations grew, to the point of regretting how late they were to cover the story. “Now it has an impact on the company, now it has an impact on markets. There are tens of thousands of protesters that are coming out to this one spot trying to halt this pipeline.”
Doan also notes that while demonstrations against Dakota Access were taking place, other energy infrastructure projects were facing similar resistance and forcing a shift in the coverage. “As a team we’re already interviewing analysts and banks on Wall Street about this and how it was changing the conversation.”
Pennie Opal Plant hopes that change extends beyond pipelines and energy projects. “Standing Rock is everywhere, it’s not just in the United States, it is around the world and we have a responsibility to making sure that the future is safe for not only human generations to come but the rest of our nonhuman relatives.”