What happened to the Water Protectors? They are still fighting. This is a humanitarian story.
~By Miriah Meiers
The Dakota Access Pipeline has been in service for eighteen months now, beginning in June 2017. It was two years ago this past October that Native American Tribes tried to block its construction near their reservation lands in South Central North Dakota. This became a large protest that escalated into an almost war-like event between the Native Tribes and Morton County Authorities. Many arrests were made on October 22, 2016.
The Dakota Pipeline was built to carry crude oil from Stanley, North Dakota (My hometown) to Pakota, Illinois, in order to increase its exportation to other lands. It crosses 50 counties in four states. It is owned by various companies and merges of these same companies.
This became a mainstream story worldwide capturing the protesting of the construction of this pipeline by various interests and throughout social media. The protestors referred to themselves as Water Protectors and consisted of mostly indigenous Native Americans from various tribes, but specifically the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux, as it was threatening their land. As this protest stirred up more recognition, even celebrities were calling themselves Water Protectors, as were anyone else in support for the cause.
The protesting started after the initial route was redirected from being 10 miles Northeast of Bismarck, ND to further south near the Standing Rock Reservation, regardless of the Tribes Council Members concerns about water sources and sacred land being disrupted by the oil pipeline. The pipeline runs under the Missouri River.
This was also a very high tension time with a heated presidential election happening in congruence with this historical protest and was directly affected by it. After months of protests by thousands of indigenous and environmental activists, the Obama Administration denied a key permit for the DAPL. A few months later, Trump became president and reversed Obama’s decision and approved construction on the pipeline. This was one of Trump’s first actions as a President, to ensure an increase of domestic energy production. This distressed Native people in the United States and Canada, not only the destruction of land and water, but that the decisions were made discounting indigenous rights.
Today, the pipeline transfers crude oil from the Bakken oil basin of North Dakota at a rate of over 500,000 barrels per day. The Dakota Access Pipeline is not the only pipeline in this area, hundreds if not more are underground, sometimes several per field. The state will most likely run out of pipeline capacity next year, and Energy Transfer recently announced its plans to expand its Dakota Access pipeline, in order to transport more oil.
Timothy Comminhay, a North Dakota native was at Standing Rock throughout its entirety, arriving in September of 2016 and remained there until escorted by the Mandan Police Department via handcuffs February 23, 2017. Tim is an old friend of mine and I’ve had a pleasure to stay in touch with him during this protest, and periodically ever since. He is a modern day human rights activist!
Tim was living in Hawaii at the time the pipeline construction started and when the protest began, he headed home to North Dakota to join the fight. “When I first came to Standing Rock, I came here to fight a pipeline. I thought it was my duty. After a few months of living among so many amazing people unified, it became apparent that we were all here for something larger. We were here to fight for indigenous rights.”
Many people saw footage of this protest through socialmedia and mainstream news sources. North Dakota is also my native state and everyone was heated about it, from many different angles. I chose to express Tim’s perspective because he was there and he was on the front lines of the indigenous side.
On October 22, there were 126 arrests made after a maddening battle between the Morton County law enforcement and the indigenous people. It was not a pretty scene, but the water protectors stood their ground and many were put in handcuffs.
I asked Tim what the craziest thing he saw during this protest. Morton County could not house all of the arrestees in their county jail so they crammed the overflow into DIY chain-link fence kennels inside their garage, after stripping them down to one layer of clothing. North Dakota gets COLD and concrete floors make it worse.
Tim stayed in Mandan, waiting on court for misdemeanor charges. Most people were charged with the same two offences; Trespassing and Obstruction of a government function. After being released, he started working for Freshetcollective.org, dedicated to helping others fulfill their legal obligations and getting bonded out of custody. This organization focused on supporting everyone involved, helping to assure them that their sacrifices made a difference.
After many months of playing in the Morton County legal system, many charges were dropped, usually the day before trail. Tim said he was disappointed. He waited a long time, patiently, and helping others to show up, only to be denied his chance to speak with charges dropped instantly pretrial, usually only one day before trail, for everyone. There are still a couple who were convicted of more serious charges that are serving time in State prison.
Today, Tim is still fighting the fight. He is currently in Minnesota, challenging oil extraction companies. I do not blame him for not wanting to be in his home state. Tim has a great message, “We are running out of time! We need to first of all resist our government that wants nothing but to make a profit by exploiting all of our planets resources and our human rights to live here.” Extreme measures need to be taken, and I agree. Before we can save what is broken, it is time to stop that which is destroying our natural world. “We can’t be defeated!” said Tim, after asking him if he is going to continue this activist work, “If we are defeated, then we are going to lose everything! Even if the whole world realized tomorrow that it was time to work together, it would probably take three or four generations to repair what we’ve done to this world.”
NDPL is only one of many pipelines that transport oil throughout the Midwest. There are constantly new permits being granted for more. This particular pipeline however, did draw attention to a current reality, which is based around profit from natural resources. These tribes stood up to a system that places profit above everything else, both our natural world and the people that live on it. That is a scary equation. These forces seem highly unlikely to stop their ways anytime soon. The North Dakota Native Tribes had the courage to stand up for their rights. We should all learn from them. We must not let greed put humanity at such high risk. What is all this profit for anyways? At what point does the future of our planet, its life and our species stop being bought and sold?
About Miriah: Adventure seeker, snowboarder, mountain climber, river rat, yogi, surfer wannabe, outdoor enthusiast. Writer, artist, activist, green medicine cratswoman, wondering explorer.
I became a member and volunteer of Herbalists Without Borders in 2012 as the Healing Arts Project Coordinator, while living in Denver, Colorado. In 2014, I began constructing the quarterly newsletters and have served as the editor since and love it. The early newsletters were constructed while I lived remotely from Northern California; off-the-grid, on the move, and usually without internet access! I currently reside in Telluride, Colorado.
I’m striving to connect more with other Herbalists Without Borders globally on my travels and be an advocate writer on behalf of our non-profit, and freelance writer for other common causes. I truly support the humanitarian work of Herbalists Without Borders. I believe in humanity, and the moon and the stars. I’m passionate about protecting the Earth’s medicine and the rights to have access to it.
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