As tribes and their supporters dig in for winter in their opposition camps near the pipeline construction site, local tribes rally in support. Meanwhile the situation at the pipeline job site is becoming volatile, unsafe.
TACOMA — Songs have power; so do prayers. So does cedar, sage and standing together. That’s what tribes gathered from around Western Washington vowed Saturday, in a rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Opponents of the more than 1,100-mile-long, $3.8 billion oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois marched and gathered by the hundreds in downtown Tacoma to protest, stating the pipeline threatens the water supply of millions of people downstream from its proposed crossing of the Missouri River. Construction of the pipeline by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, Texas, already has destroyed sacred sites, including burials, tribal leaders with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe say.
The rally of Medicine Creek treaty tribes — Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Muckleshoot and Puyallup — drew hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. With drums, songs, burning sage and prayer, they marched down Pacific Avenue before rallying at the University of Washington Tacoma campus.
Many in this crowd had already been to the opposition camps at Cannon Ball, N.D., where hundreds have gathered since April to demonstrate against the pipeline. The camps have grown to the largest gathering of native people in North America in more than a century, and many demonstrators, who call themselves Water Protectors, have vowed to stay until the pipeline is stopped.
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The pipeline opposition has drawn not only native people supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who oppose the pipeline routed a half mile from their border. It also has attracted a rainbow of climate activists, fossil-fuel development opponents, and environmentalists to become a first flashpoint in President-elect Donald Trump’s near future.
Many speakers at the rally invoked Trump’s election as a cue to doubledown the resistance. “We are going to be doing a lot more of this,” said Farron McCloud, chairman of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. “We are not going anywhere. We are here until the end. People like Donald Trump are going to come and go.”
The treaty tribes are doing now what they did in the 1960s and 1970s, he said, standing their ground in the fish wars against game wardens with tear gas and billy clubs, fighting on the banks of the rivers to defend the tribes’ reserved rights to fish in their ancestral waters.
“We are protecting our treaties and our way of life,” McCloud said.
Hanford McCloud, a Nisqually tribal councilman, urged the crowd to stay in the fight against the pipeline, and in other fights against fossil-fuel projects that tribes are waging around the Northwest, from the Millennium Bulk Terminals oil-by-rail site in Longview, to coal and oil trains along the Columbia River Gorge, and oil tankers in Puget Sound — traffic that would greatly increase if the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in British Columbia is approved.
“We are the ones we are waiting for to stand up and fight this fight,” McCloud said.
Rachel Heaton, a Muckleshoot tribal member who helped organize the rally, said she is about to head back to the opposition camp at Standing Rock for the third time, taking donations to help demonstrators determined to stay through the winter, if need be.
“This is our chance to come together and fight this fight, not just here in Washington, but in Standing Rock,” she said. “If this election brought out anything, it is that we need to stand together and be involved.”
Charlene Krise of the Squaxin Island tribal council told the demonstrators to remember that water is sacred, part of the air we breathe, even our very bodies. “My relatives, we are bound together, as family. You walk in sacredness, you have that water within you,” she said as the crowd listened in hushed attention. “We are of the earth, every particle in us comes from this land.”
The Standing Rock Sioux are doing what all people must, she said. “They are protecting the animal nations, the plant nations and the rest of us. They are protecting the water, and water is life.”
The Department of Justice has announced this week it will soon offer a “path forward” for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux have said the only acceptable answer is denial of the last easement needed to complete the project, or a complete environmental-impact statement and tribal consultation before further construction is allowed.
The developer announced on Election Day that the company’s contractors have completed all work in North Dakota. It just needs one more easement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start drilling under the river to complete the project.
But resistance continues to grow, and the situation near the work site has become volatile and unsafe. More than 30 arrests were made this past week after demonstrators smashed windows and cut wires on construction equipment and slashed tires on police vehicles.
David Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, has asked President Obama to stop the project for the safety of everyone involved. Tensions are escalating.
Police in North Dakota on Saturday were investigating a report of shots fired. Video on social media showed a worker driving his truck into a crowd of protesters, while pointing a gun at them in a pipeline-equipment workyard after demonstrators entered the job site. That forced an evacuation of workers, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
The Corps has repeatedly asked the company to stand down from construction to help quell the violence that has erupted in recent weeks in demonstrations against the pipeline.
The company has refused to do so, and now says it expects no significant delays to the project.