News broke yesterday that after months and months of brave indigenous resistance and federal-level vacillating, the planned Dakota Access Pipeline will not now be allowed to pass under the Missouri River in North Dakota.
The Army’s assistant secretary for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, said on Sunday afternoon:
Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do. The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.
There are a few salient points to be parsed here.
Firstly this is, above all else, a great victory, and it should be seen as such — symbolically, as well as for the real-world implications for those most affected by it on the ground. The Standing Rock Sioux and all those who came to support them on those cold plains have lit a blazing bonfire in the dark despairing night of 2016. ‘Look what the power of the human spirit can achieve’, they have said. That indigenous people, crushed for so long under the boot heel of colonial oppression, have refused to lie down and roll over in the face of big capital is an awe-inspiring and humbling display.
As with any victory of people against power, however, caution must be advised. As an attorney for the tribe, Jan Hasselman, has said:
They [Energy Transfer Partners] can sue, and Trump can try to overturn, but overturning it would be subject to close scrutiny by a reviewing court, and we will be watching the new administration closely.
Though the Standing Rock Sioux have expressed their gratitude to the Obama administration for its decision, Donald Trump, lest we forget, has a stake in the pipeline, so there’s no doubt as to which way the political will will be blowing come the new year. Human shit-stain Paul Ryan has already piped up, calling the current administration’s action, ‘big government decision-making at its worst’. The companies involved, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics, have expressed their surety of the project’s completion — saying they ‘expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe’. Bernie Sanders, who has been vocal in his support of the water protectors, said that he, ‘appreciate[s] very much President Obama listening to the Native American people and millions of others who believe this pipeline should not be built.’
But this victory, temporary though it may be, does not belong to President Obama, who — despite his ultimately wise and much appreciated decision — spent far too long behaving suspiciously as if he was hoping that the water protectors would simply give up and go home. No, this victory belongs to those who were there, day after day; who stood and took everything the state and big capital threw at them, all the while refusing to be cowed. Their bravery and steadfastness beggars belief. As the world’s climate approaches — or in fact has probably already crossed — the point of no-return, tales of what the water protectors at Standing Rock have done should now be chanted from the rooftops.
The outpouring of support for those in North Dakota over the past few months deserves a spotlight too; it should be viewed as a bright spot in the history of global solidarity. Money, supplies, and attention were channeled from around the world as people saw unarmed, peaceful protesters standing their ground against an over-militarised police force brandishing riot shields, bean-bag guns, and noise cannons.
The victory at Standing Rock may be only a temporary reprieve, but in the great struggle between power and people, temporary is the best we can ever hope for. The fight never ends, but it is on occasions like this that we see why we fight.