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Standing Rock Protesters Fear their Victory may be Short-Lived

Hannah Quinn, author

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For the past year, Native American groups and activists have been protesting the installation of the North Dakota Access Pipeline (also known as the Keystone XL Pipeline, or KXL), a project that was slated to run within a mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Protesters and environmentalists claim that the pipeline (one that was originally mapped to run through a white neighborhood before being rerouted) would be desecrating sacred religious sites of the local Sioux population and contaminate the reservation’s water supply.

Police forces showed up to “contain” the peaceful demonstrators, called Water Protectors, eventually blasting the groups of mostly Native activists with high-pressure water cannons and shooting them with rubber bullets. Dozens of injuries ensued and multiple arrests were made, but each day more and more arrived at Standing Rock to join the cause, making the haphazard camps erected there their temporary home. On Thanksgiving, protestors celebrated a peaceful holiday by building a makeshift bridge to Turtle Island on the reservation, a site that is considered sacred religious ground. They carried armfuls of goggles and bottles of Milk of Magnesia in preparation for more rounds of tear gas from the police officers watching from the overlooking hill, but the show of force never came.

Back in November, the United States Army Corps of Engineers denied the corporations behind the Dakota Pipeline the proper permits to build through Standing Rock. The Standing Rock Sioux and other Water Protectors mainly attributed this victory to President Obama’s more socially and environmentally conscious administration, but still insist that the battle is not yet over. President-elect Donald Trump has openly supported the pipeline project on multiple occasions, and many fear that his incoming administration may reverse the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision. On December 13th, the pipeline, which currently ends just before the Standing Rock Reservation, fulfilled protestors’ worst fears: it burst and dumped over 100,000 gallons into nearby water sources, ones that flow into the reservation. Cleanup has yet to begin, and the spill was not detected by the companies responsible, but by a passerby.

Protests have continued into 2017, with 21 arrests already made. The demonstrations are expected to revamp after Trump’s inauguration and the upcoming senate hearings for climate-change denier Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency. His likely approval from the Senate will be confirming the Water Protectors’ worsts fears and essentially erasing the hard fought victory won last year, and protesters are insisting that there are still many battles left to win.

“Wopila [thank you] to all our relatives who stood strong to oppose the KXL,” said A. Gay Kingman, executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Association in an interview at the end of 2016. “But keep the coalitions together, because there are more pipelines proposed, and we must protect our Mother Earth for our future generations.”

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Standing Rock Protesters Fear their Victory may be Short-Lived