They stand for us all. By the end of February 2017 protest camps at Standing Rock were fully evacuated and destroyed. Many had visited, prayed, rallied and spoken out in support of indigenous people defending their territory against the construction of an oil pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, (DAPL) which was running close to water sources; `water is sacred’ the Sioux said,` water is life’, they called themselves the `water protectors’. Tribes had gathered from as far away as the Amazon and inspired many far beyond the Americas; songs and stories in dozens of languages hummed late into the summer nights.`I knew the ancestors were with us’. The protest had been nonviolent but had been met with an increasingly violent and militarized response. Many, including young people, celebrities and a large group of US military veterans, had gathered to be present at the site, to pray and join in the ceremonies, in order to stand up for indigenous rights and environmental justice – so often all over the world indigenous peoples and the defenders of the environment against extractive industries and illegal logging so detrimental to the environment and all the species dependent on it. Indigenous peoples are at the frontline of these fights and struggles.
On February 7th President Trump had issued an executive order giving permission to continue with the construction of the pipeline waiving the environmental review demanded by Obama. This was followed by an order to removethe camp completely. But the movement continues in the courts and by lobbying the banks who are financing the pipeline, some have already withdrawn their support. Perhaps most important is the fire that has been lit…….
`Our hearts are not defeated. The closing of the camp is not the end of a movement or a fight. It is a new beginning. They cannot extinguish the fire that Standing Rock started’(Tom Goldtooth, from the Indigenous Environmental Network). The campaign has inspired countless allies to stand up for indigenous rights and environmental justice against `colonisation driven by an insatiable consumption of natural resources’ Big money and big people oppressing people are trying to push this pipeline through to the benefit of a few wealthy Americans with financial ties to the Trump administration. The tribes say `we are a sovereign nation and we will fight to protect our water and sacred places from brazen private interests’.`We must expose every institution pushing the Dakota Access Pipeline.’ Pipelines of course, costing billions of dollars encourage the use of fossil fuels; oil spills are common contaminating drinking water and ruining the environment and its life forms. Energy Transfer Partners, the company constructing the pipeline has apparently had 35 pipeline accidents over 2 years, nothing `safe’ about that. One of the things the courts are doing is to ask for disclosure of the company’s risk assessment!
Pope Francis had something to say. Development must be balanced, ` the particular characteristics of indigenous people and their territories should be protected, this is especially true when planning economic activity which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth.And quoting from Article 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples he said `the right to prior informed consent should always prevail’.
In a recent report John Knox, the UN human rights and environment rapporteur writes while many aspects of the relationship between human rights and the environment are important none is more urgent that the need to protect those individuals who work, often at great personal risk, to protect the natural environment from unsustainable exploitation, and defend the human rights of themselves and their communities’, we remember for instance, Berta Caceres of Honduras whose anniversary it is around now. Shockingly the death rate is rising and in the past four years there has been an average of four deaths of activist a week. Killing is one thing there is also other types of violence designed to instil fear and prevent activism. EHRD Environmental Human Rights defenders calls for `defence of the defenders so they can continue their vital work’. ( Geneva March 9th 2017)
It is not the end it is a new beginning. Tribes and others in solidarity with them gathered at the White House on March 10th, together with youth and military veterans and other allies of standing Rock the tribes keep vigil……..may we stand with them to protect our water, our earth.