An Occupation in the Prairies of North Dakota:

Protesters Block Oil Pipeline That Endangers Native American Lives and Threatens Environmental Destruction

August 30, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


An intensifying battle against an oil pipeline is going on in North Dakota, involving a fight against the oppression of Native American people and environmental destruction. In April, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe launched a protest camp against the construction of the pipeline—and in recent weeks, hundreds from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and other Native tribes as well as environmental activists have gathered at the camp. Among those in the protests have been people who were involved in the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee, when hundreds of Native Americans and others stood up against U.S. government-backed murder and intimidation. The governor of North Dakota has declared a state of emergency for the area, and police have barricaded the main highway leading to the protest site.

The pipeline, under construction by a private oil company based in Texas, is known as Dakota Access and would run nearly 1,200 miles from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota to Illinois. When fully operational, this pipeline would carry over 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The oil company has federal and state approval to go through public lands and negotiated passage through private lands.

The battle against an oil pipeline intensifies in North Dakota, as Standing Rock Sioux tribe launched a protest camp against the construction of the pipeline, as seen here, August 2016. (Photo: AP)

The battle against an oil pipeline intensifies in North Dakota, as Standing Rock Sioux tribe launched a protest camp against the construction of the pipeline, as seen here, August 2016. (Photo: AP)

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says the pipeline encroaches on land that is important to their cultural heritage. And just a half mile from the reservation border, the planned pipeline route crosses the Missouri River. If there is a pipeline break, the oil spill could threaten drinking and irrigation water supplies and endanger the health of not only the people of the tribe but millions of people in the region. There has been opposition to the pipeline, which goes through four states, in other areas, including among farmers in Iowa.

The danger of a serious leak in the pipeline is very real. In an online petition against the pipeline, Anna Lee Rain YellowHammer, a 13-year-old member of the Standing Rock tribe, wrote: “Oil companies keep telling us that this is perfectly safe, but we’ve learned that that’s a lie: from 2012-2013 alone, there were 300 oil pipeline breaks in the state of North Dakota. With such a high chance that this pipeline will leak, I can only guess that the oil industry keeps pushing for it because they don’t care about our health and safety. It’s like they think our lives are more expendable than others.”

So far, more than 20 protesters have been arrested at the protest camp, where people sleep in tents and tipis and cook in open-air kitchens. Earlier this month, riders on horseback forced a line of sheriffs to back off. There have been no major assaults against the camp by law enforcement up to now. But the county sheriff has declared the camp an “unlawful protest” and the governor has claimed the protest poses “public safety risks.” (The pipeline poses serious health and environmental risks—but the governor accuses the protesters of being “public safety risks”?!) Such words could foreshadow an attempt by the government and law enforcement to shut down the righteous protest by force and intimidation. Any such move by the authorities would be totally unjust and must be met by broad and determined opposition.

Along with the protest camp, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is also waging a fight in the federal courts to stop construction of the pipeline. Among those who were at the latest court hearing in DC around this case were actors Susan Sarandon and Shailene Woodley. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and singer Pharrell Williams have been among those tweeting in support of the protest.

Special Issue of Revolution on the Environmental Emergency

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  • the dimensions of the emergency...
  • the source of its causes in the capitalist system, and the impossibility of that system solving this crisis...
  • a way out and way forward for humanity—a revolutionary society in which we could actually live as custodians of nature, rather than as its plunderers.

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The oil company that owns the pipeline claimed that the pipeline would be safe and would help toward making the U.S. self-sufficient in energy sources. Aside from the real danger of pipeline leaks, there is nothing positive for humanity in the U.S. increasing its oil production!

For one thing, the U.S. capitalist-imperialist rulers see their expanded domestic oil and gas production as a weapon in global rivalries with other capitalist countries. This is not just about economic competition but involves very intense struggles—backed up by military power, if not mainly breaking out in open war at this point—over strategic advantage and domination of key parts of the world.

And very importantly, there is the question of fossil fuels and climate change. Last year saw a record-breaking high in global temperatures—just like the year before, the year before that, and so on. The climate emergency is picking up even more steam, caused by the relentless burning of oil, coal, and gas; deforestation; and capitalist agricultural practices. Polar ice caps are melting with increasing speed, extreme storms and droughts are hitting harder and more often, ecosystems are being destroyed, and other effects of climate change are intensifying. Scientists warn of mass destruction of plant and animal species and catastrophic threats to people, especially in poor countries. Right at this very time, the U.S. is excavating, drilling, and piping oil and gas at record rates—and the Dakota Access pipeline is part of all this.

The battle over the Dakota Access pipeline also points to the long and shameful history of the crimes carried out by the rulers of this country against Native American peoples. In an opinion article in the New York Times, David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, wrote: “When the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River in 1958, it took our riverfront forests, fruit orchards and most fertile farmland to create Lake Oahe. Now the Corps is taking our clean water and sacred places by approving this river crossing. Whether it’s gold from the Black Hills or hydropower from the Missouri or oil pipelines that threaten our ancestral inheritance, the tribes have always paid the price for America’s prosperity.”

From the conquest, plunder, and life-stealing exploitation carried out by the first European colonialists... to the slave owners and emerging capitalists who founded the United States and expanded their country through predatory violence as well as deception and broken treaty after broken treaty... the original inhabitants of this land suffered decimation and devastation. Huge numbers of Native Americans were killed due to the armed expansion of the U.S., the destruction of their ways of life, the spread of disease for which the Native Americans had no immunity, and other factors. Most of those who survived were forced onto reservations controlled and surrounded by armed forces of the capitalist state—and often forcibly relocated when those areas turned out to contain valuable resources or for other reasons.

The effects of this terrible history continue today. This system of capitalism-imperialism has no real answers to the oppression of Native American people—nor to any of the urgent problems facing people here and around the world and the threats to the planet’s very environment. But the actual revolution—communist revolution—does. Check out the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, written by Bob Avakian and adopted by the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, for a vision and concrete plan for a revolutionary socialist society—including how the defeat of the imperialist state through revolution will open the way for actually overcoming the legacy of the horrors the U.S. has carried out against Native American people for so long.


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