That phrase, which means “water is life” in Lakota language, was chanted by the crowd at the beginning and end of a rally held in support of the “water protectors” in Standing Rock, N.D. who are protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Signs, flags, pounding drums, chants, and even a hint of burning sage, filled up Ernest Spaights Plaza at UW-Milwaukee during the rally, which took place on a damp and overcast November afternoon.
The rally was attended by about 150 people while organizers Eagle Condor and President of UWM’s American Indian Student Association Clifton Parker, along with other speakers, talked about the importance of protecting the environment and supporting the movement in Standing Rock.
“It’s a stance that this has to stop,” said Parker. “You can’t just break another treaty and can’t just play with the ecosystem whenever you want to. In our customs and our culture, the ecosystem is how we sustain our life. So, if you’re destroying the ecosystem, you’re basically saying you want to kill me.”
“System change, not climate change!” chanted the group as they stood in solidarity with the movement against the DAPL. The group formed a large circle and danced around to the sound of the beating drums.
One rally-goer and local activist, who attended the rally just one day before he was scheduled to travel to Standing Rock to join the protestors against the pipeline, shared his thoughts on why he thinks the movement in Standing Rock is significant.
“Now, with the immense amount of people going out there and standing together, I think it’s a very strong people’s movement,” said Sam Humiston. “When everybody is gathering in this one place, it’s always been a marker historically for some great change that’s about to come.”
The DAPL is a $3.8 billion project owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners that would transport oil nearly 1,200 miles from oil fields in northern North Dakota to Illinois. The majority of the pipeline has already been completed except for the most controversial location. The most controversial location, the spot where protesters have set up camp, is the spot where the DAPL is routed to go underneath Lake Oahe and the Missouri river just north of the Standing Rock Reservation. This spot is controversial because an estimated 18 mil people get their drinking water from that water, and the land it crosses was given to the Sioux by the U.S government as part of the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868. The land has since been taken away in the 1950’s through eminent domain, so dams could be built along the Missouri river.
The legality of the U.S government’s ability to give land through eminent domain to a private company (Energy Transfer Partners) is under dispute and is the basis of the Standing Rock movement along with the protection of the ecosystem.
The “water protectors” began setting up camp in late-May or early-June shortly after the Army Corps of Engineers signed off on the project. By summer’s end, the amount of people living at the Standing Rock camp was in the thousands.
The construction companies, along with local law enforcement began to push back against protesters by forming a heavily-armored group of police and hired security. Dozens of videos show that protesters have been shot with rubber bullets, tazed, and shot with water cannons in below-freezing temperatures. Over 500 people have been arrested, with some of the arrestees reporting poor treatment at the Morton Country Jail.
“Be aware, of the fact that an active military is being assembled right there,” said Parker. “And, it’s not by the government or by the citizens of Standing Rock. It’s by private corporations.”
A total of 167 demonstrators have been injured while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, according to a medic on site, as reported by Indigenous Rising Media.
In early December, the Army Corps of Engineering denied a permit that would have allowed the DAPL to cross under the disputed Lake Oahe location, temporarily halting construction on the pipeline. There are talks of the pipeline possibly being rerouted to a different location, although a statement from Energy Transfer Partners seems to contradict that. In the statement, ETP states that they remain “fully committed” to completing the pipeline without rerouting around Lake Oahe and say that the decision to not grant the permit was “purely political.”
Standing Rock protesters are happy with the decision, but remain skeptical about what will happen going forward. Donald Trump will become President in less than a month and, according to the Huffington Post, has invested money into Energy Transfer Partners and says he has come out in favor of completing the pipeline.