On the open plains of South Dakota, a rumbling can be heard across the waves of golden grass. But it is not the thunder of pounding buffalo hooves, as would have been heard hundreds of years ago. Today, it is the growl of bulldozers and the beating of sacred drums that echo across the land.
What began as a modest protest by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in April 2016 near Cannon Ball, South Dakota, has grown into semi-permanent camps of thousands. Representatives and community members from more than 280 indigenous tribes and First Nations from both North and South America have come together in support of Standing Rock’s efforts to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, routed to go under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Reservation and through sacred ancestral lands.
The gathering of so many tribes is unprecedented, and is seen as a galvanizing moment in the contemporary indigenous rights movement as well as the building environmental movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
Many tribes who have travelled to Standing Rock have fought or are fighting development in their own territories. Even historic enemies of the Sioux have set aside their prior differences to unite in a common purpose and a passionate commitment to protect tribal rights and the land water from inevitable oil spills.
The Dakota Access Pipeline, if completed, would carry half a million gallons of crude oil per day from the oilfields in the north to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The Missouri River is the primary source of water not only for the people of the Standing Rock reservation but also for millions of
Lawyers for the tribe have stated “An oil spill at this site would constitute an existential threat to the Tribe’s culture and way of life.”
The Standing Rock Sioux have also taken their case to the United Nations. Just two days after Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II urged the UN Human Rights Council to help the tribe stop the pipeline, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, made a statement just cited the pipeline’s threats to drinking water and sacred sites. She also admonished the U.S. for failing to protect protesters’ rights and failing to properly consult with communities affected by the fossil fuel infrastructure. Informed consent from those affected—and abiding by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—is essential, she said, “particularly in connection with extractive resource industries.”
According to Tom Goldtooth, the director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, “The UN Expert got it right. The right of free, prior, and informed consent begins prior to the planning process, not when their bulldozers are at your doorstep.”
This article includes excerpts from “UN Experts to United States: Stop DAPL Now,” published on CommonDreams.org, CC.