Michigan Stands with Standing Rock

In North Dakota, a historic gathering of Native Americans is taking place, to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline1, at the invitation of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe2. Here in Michigan, activists are working hard in solidarity with the "water protectors"3 at Standing Rock, with at least seven separate organizations4 arranging events in support of Standing Rock.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is an oil pipeline project which is under construction5. Its owners, Energy Transfer Partners6, intend to use the pipeline to move up to 570,000 barrels per day of crude oil from fracking sites3 in the Bakken rock formation in North Dakota, to a crude oil market hub near Patoka, Illinois5.

Now, the only thing standing in the way of this project5 is an encampment of the local Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and a gathering of at least 460 of the 5677 Native American nations in the United States.1 "It's the first time that all seven Sioux council fires have come together since the battle of Little Big Horn in the 1800s," said Sydney Skaggs, president of the Native American Student Organization (NASO) at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). "It's groundbreaking, because some of those tribes have never come together before. You have natural enemies, but we're all coming together."

Why are they protesting this construction project? For one thing, the path of the pipeline cuts through land claimed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, but which belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux under an 1851 treaty5. But, says, Skaggs, "it's not only a native issue. It plays into some traditional beliefs we have. It being a duty as a Native American to protect the Earth, we have to protect everyone else as well." Here, Skaggs is referring to the pipeline's proposed path, which takes it under the Missouri River5, and the activists are concerned about the hazards to the environment1.

The Michigan Organizer is aware of demonstrations that happened this past Friday in Ypsilanti, Saturday in Ann Arbor, and Tuesday in Ann Arbor and two in Detroit, as part of the national Day of Action that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe called for. I spoke with Erica Ackerman of 350 Southeast Michgan, who said "the native community called out to environmental groups to help make this a national issue."

It seems that supporters of Standing Rock are springing up from nowhere. I met Hannah Eve Bihlmeyer, who organized the Saturday protest in Ann Arbor. "I literally just googled 'how to have a protest' and found a wikihow article," she said. That article must have contained some good advice, because, by her estimate, 175-250 people came out to join the demonstration that day. "I'm lucky because I live in Ypsi and there's such a resourceful community arond me. This was not just me at all." Soon, she will be having an meeting in order to form a more concrete organization around this issue. "I'm kind of doing it backwards," she said. That meeting will be Saturday, November 19th, at 11am. For the address, contact the Michigan Organizer.

On Tuesday, Ann Arbor and Detroit came out in force to answer the call for a national day of action. "There were maybe about 500 people there. We shut down the streets for four hours. It was massive and beautiful," said Valerie Jean, a Detroit organizer with many organizations, including the Detroit Light Brigade and the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCATS). "There was no major news media there," she said. But the word did get out. "People posted all night about what happened in Detroit. It was something to be a part of."

The Detroit protest actually began as two separate actions organized independently, which joined together. Activists from 350 Southeast Michigan planned an earlier rally outside the Army Corps of Engineers office. "We wanted to have it during the workday so that it would have more of an impact," said Erica Ackerman. "By the time we showed up to start our action," said Valerie Jean, "hundreds of people were already there."

That action went on until nine that night. But that's not the end. Watch our events calendar for further updates on the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.