Celebrate — and dig in for the long run


Today, tomorrow, this week, this month is a time to celebrate a remarkable victory for Standing Rock.

On December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not grant a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline to tunnel under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. Or, to be more precise, the Corps said it would require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will take months, maybe years, to complete.

But that is not the remarkable victory.

The denial, or the delay, however you parse it, will mean Energy Transfer Partners cannot legally make their contractual completion deadline of January 1. That means their investors could pull out after January 1.

But that is not the remarkable victory.

No, the remarkable victory is the coming together of so many Native American nations gathering at Oceti Sakowin, the biggest gathering / alliance / coming together since … ever.

The remarkable victory is that massive numbers of people joined in prayerful, peaceful, powerful resistance, in a year and an era marked by violence and hatred. As Winona Duke wrote last week in News From Indian Country:

“Standing Rock is an unpredicted history lesson for all of us. More than any moment I recall since Wounded Knee, the Vietnam War, or the time of Martin Luther King, this moment stands as a crossroads in the battle for social justice. It is also an economic issue, in a time of economic system transformation, and profoundly a question of the future of this land. The world is watching.

We celebrate the persistence of the water protectors, in the face of police violence, tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, water cannons. We celebrate their refusal to back down in the face of an arsenal of “non-lethal” weapons that shred a young woman’s arm, smash another’s eye, send an elder into cardiac arrest, leave people bleeding and bruised and freezing. We celebrate their courage in facing attack dogs, suffering wrongful arrests, enduring strip searches and body cavity searches, and being jailed in dog kennels.

We celebrate their steadfast refusal to give in to lies, hatred and violence and their consistent commitment to peaceful, prayerful resistance. As Bill McKibben wrote in The Guardian:

“It wasn’t standard-issue environmental lobbying, nor standard-issue protest, though there was certainly some of both (lawyers took the company to court, activists shut down bank branches). At its heart, however, in the great camp that grew up along the rivers, this was a largely spiritual resistance. David Archambault, the head of the Standing Rock Sioux who demonstrated great character and dexterity for months, kept insisting that the camp was a place of prayer, and you couldn’t wander its paths without running into drum circles and sacred fires.”

We celebrate, though we know that this victory may be temporary.

Energy Transfer Partners could go ahead and blast out a tunnel for their pipeline in defiance of the law. Would North Dakota law enforcement stop them? Would Energy Transfer Partners even care about a fine, or would they write it off as just another cost of doing business? And after January 20, would any federal prosecutor even be allowed to prosecute them? As Scott Russell writes in Healing Minnesota Stories:

 “While a heavily militarized police force is keeping the Water Protectors at a distance from the project, it is not clear that anyone is policing Energy Transfer Partners from digging without an easement. Its public statements give every indication it intends to continue with the current plan. …

“What happens if Energy Transfer Partners digs without an easement? Who holds them accountable? The fear of those opposed to the pipeline is that the penalty is at most a fine, which is no deterrent for a large company.”

On the other hand, writes Winona LaDuke, Energy Transfer Partners may already have lost. With global oil prices declining and production in Bakken oil fields steadily falling, investors may be looking for excuses to pull out.

“In short, greed is expensive, and if Energy Transfer Partners does not meet that deadline, many prudent shippers may want to renegotiate or withdraw their contracts. In other words, the pipeline could become a pumpkin, in the terms of Cinderella, and there are a lot of people who would not be sorry about that.”

We know the black snake is wounded but not dead, that it still may twist and turn and poison us all. Today, though, and this week and this month, we celebrate the victory of the nations, the victory of water protectors over oil and money and pollution and corruption.

And tomorrow? Some people may remain in the camps. Others will leave the camps, but maintain resistance in other ways. For those of us outside the camps:

We all need to dig in for the long run. Every winter, we prepare to live through blizzards. We seek shelter and stock up on food and fuel. As a winter of despair blankets our country, we must seek shelter in solidarity and support one another. As we fight through this long winter, we need to celebrate each victory and persist in standing up for justice.

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