Standing Rock: New Life to Old Struggles

Kalpulli Ameyaltonal Tejaztlan hold ceremony in front of the Alamo and lift signs decrying pipelines in North Dakota and West Texas. Luissana Santibañez is at front.

The teeth marks of attack dogs and the pepper-sprayed faces of indigenous land defenders in North Dakota are fresh on the minds of dozens of dancers gathered on the stone plaza in front of the Alamo. Tying on rattling ayoyote-seed leg bands and colorful feathers, members of two San Antonio Mexican dance troupes recognize their own concerns for clean air and fresh water across Texas and Mexico in the now months-long struggle far to the north. “A lot of people don’t recognize Mexicans as native people, but we’re original peoples of this continent too,” says Laura Rios Ramirez, of Kalpulli Ameyaltonal Tejaztlan, an organization dedicated to preserving traditional ways of dance, song, and medicine.

Tourists begin to linger, curious, as sage smoke blows and a woman kneels to beat a rhythm on a standing drum. But if they are expecting costumed entertainment similar to the history lessons two musketed men in period Western garb are giving, they are soon disappointed. “Which side are you on?” the group sings out a standard protest song. “Which side are you on?”

“As soon as I saw the dogs involved, that’s what really hit it off,” said Daryn Ocean-Sun Rinterra, the student organizer of a protest action in front of Energy Transfer’s offices in north San Antonio last week. “I’m of Navajo descent and Squamish descent, and the fact we’ve been oppressed peoples since colonization began, I was like, ‘That’s enough. That’s it.’ They cannot keep doing this to these people.”

Signs are lifted decrying a planned $3 billion-plus, 1,168-mile crude oil pipeline seeking to squeeze fracking-derived crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale to a distribution hub in Patoka, Ill. The ultimate destination is Sunoco Logistics’ refinery in Nederland, Texas, the company a majority pipeline partner with Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

Just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, members of the Lakota and Dakota nations have been joined by more than 200 other tribes and a variety of non-Native allies in what is considered the largest gathering of native peoples in this country in a century. The object: Stop the completion of the pipeline now thought to be over half finished.

The groups object to the project’s planned pass beneath Lake Oahe along the Missouri River half a mile upstream from the Sioux reservation as a threat to the tribe’s primary source of drinking water. They warn of the destruction of graves and other sacred sites they claim have been occurring, a loss which represents an “irreparable injury,” according to an August request for a preliminary injunction against construction filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the tribe.

In fact, the U.S. Envi­ronmental Pro­tection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Advis­ory Council on Historic Preservation all shared very similar concerns with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before that agency signed off on the project, according to a records review by InsideClimate News. However, not only were requests ignored for a halt to construction across an area of high archaeological, cultural, and spiritual value, less than 24 hours after the tribe submitted details of a stretch of known grave sites, construction leapfrogged to that exact site over Labor Day weekend and bulldozers were fired up.

A stream of self-described “water protectors” rushed over the fence, some on horseback, in an attempt to force the crews to shut down again. That’s when the dogs were brought out.

In an event that fixed Standing Rock after months of direct action in the national gaze, pipeline employees led lunging German shepherds into the crowds in an attempt to regain control of the site. For viewers of Demo­cracy Now!, which captured the assault on video, the evidence of blood on the tongue of one dog, and the torn skin on one of the demonstrators, bore an unsettling similarity to the Civil Rights struggles of Birmingham, Ala., in the 1960s.

Read the full story at the Austin Chronicle.