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Disappointed but Not Defeated: Battle Over Oil Pipelines Continues

Posted on Jan 26, 2017

By Sonali Kolhatkar

  Digging in for the winter: Activists protesting the Dakota Access pipeline shore up against the cold on Monday near Cannon Ball, N.D. (James MacPherson / AP)

Despite the immense failures of the Democratic Party to live up to its stated progressive ideals, there are differences between the two major parties. Nowhere is that difference more obvious in recent days than in the decision by Donald Trump to reinstate the Keystone XL and Dakota Access (DAPL) pipeline projects. Tens of thousands of environmental, indigenous and other activists slogged for months, even years, to push President Obama to stop the climate-destroying projects. They marched, locked themselves to each other and to heavy equipment, faced arrests and felony charges, were hit by tear gas and rubber bullets, and even bitten by dogs. But they prevailed over Obama. With the stroke of a pen, Trump signed memorandums Tuesday to undo the results of those sacrifices and struggles, even though he knows he has no popular mandate. And he did it on day five of his administration.

Despite the dismay felt by many Americans, Kandi Mossett, the Native Energy and Climate Campaign organizer with Indigenous Rising, a project of the Indigenous Environmental Network, expressed optimism in an interview for “Rising Up With Sonali.” Of the 2015 Keystone victory, she said, “We won it once and we’ll win it again, even in a Trump administration.” Just over a year before last November’s election, Obama bowed to public pressure in the face of congressional support for the project and killed it. Less than two months ago, Obama took a similar stand on the DAPL. “Even though we celebrated for one day on December 4th,” said Mossett, referring to the day of Obama’s action, “we knew that this was coming in a Trump presidency, and so we were prepared.”

Indeed, the encampment at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where the struggle over the DAPL is centered, never closed down. Mossett, who is heading back to the site, explained that about 500 activists, also known as “water protectors,” have remained at the camp through the dead of winter. Because there are serious concerns about springtime flooding in the area, activists plan to move to higher ground and are undergoing training to withstand the seasonal weather and the expected crackdown by law enforcement. Just days before Trump revived the project, 16 people were arrested in protests over the pipeline, bringing the total number arrested over the course of the fight to 600.

Mossett said that the fight against the pipeline has brought indigenous groups together. But so has the election. “Native nations across the country have been coming together in response to a Donald Trump presidency,” she said. “We will band together as nations in this country and make a significant change using our treaty rights and the legal system.”

Trump, however, has not even acknowledged the existence of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has led the legal fight against the project. Asked by a reporter about the tribe moments after he signed the DAPL memorandum, Trump simply ignored him and moved onto the next question. Press secretary Sean Spicer suggested Trump would “negotiate” with the tribe, saying, “He is willing to sit down with all of the individuals that are involved in the Dakota pipeline to make sure that it’s a deal that benefits ... all of the parties of interest, or at least gets them something that they want.” But, Mossett countered, “We won’t negotiate. There’s no negotiating with our lives.”

Despite the grim news of the pipeline renewal, Mossett remains hopeful. “We are so strong as a result of a Trump administration,” she said. “Him being in there is causing this revolution.” More than 300 tribal nations have expressed formal support for the Standing Rock Sioux’s fight against DAPL. Worldwide, approximately 600 indigenous groups have done the same. Mossett believes Trump may be “underestimating the power of the indigenous nations, our treaty rights, our right to exist and thrive on a planet that actually impacts everyone, even him.”

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