BISMARCK – Waving the flags of their tribes and singing the songs of their ancestors, more than 200 protesters marched across a Missouri River bridge in Bismarck Tuesday ahead of a federal court hearing that will determine the fate of the Dakota Access oil pipeline’s route in North Dakota.
“This water belongs to all of us,” Vic Camp, a 41-year-old from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, said as he rallied the crowd before the march. “We all know that tomorrow in Washington they’re going to make a decision that affects every single one of us.”
The march across the 2,370-foot-long Veterans Memorial Bridge aimed to show solidarity with the 2,000-some protesters encamped about 50 miles south on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, near the pipeline construction site along State Highway 1806 north of Cannon Ball.
Indeed, many marchers were from the campsite, including 25-year-old Kin-sin-ta Joseph and her 16-year-old sister Kis-dya:n-te’ Joseph, who got help from a portable PA system so their river song would carry over the wind and traffic noise. The members of northern California’s Hoopa Valley Tribe said their chairman urged members to assist Standing Rock, and about 25 made the trip.
While they’ve taken part in protests before, joining a blockade against logging companies just a few months ago, the older sister said it’s never been this big, with so many tribes involved.
“This is really spectacular,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for this kind of gathering.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, represented by the environmental law group Earthjustice, sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month over permits issued for the nearly $3.8 billion pipeline. It would cross the Missouri River a half-mile north of the reservation and be the largest oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields, moving 450,000 barrels per day to Patoka, Ill.
Standing Rock members oppose the river crossing, fearing a pipeline leak would contaminate their water supply and other sacred sites.
Dakota Access LLC temporarily stopped construction at the site last week as protests ramped up, leading to 29 arrests for trespassing or disorderly conduct. But the protest hasn’t impacted pipeline construction elsewhere along the four-state route, including in North Dakota, company spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said via email.
“We have temporarily deferred grading activities across a short section of the right-of-way (less than 1 mile) while law enforcement works to contain the unlawful protests in light of the fact that we have the necessary permits and approvals to work at this site,” she said.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., will consider Wednesday the tribe’s request for an injunction that would effectively halt construction of the 1,172-mile pipeline. A lawyer for the tribe said the judge has indicated he will rule from the bench or shortly after the hearing.
Film actress Shailene Woodley, who has been involved with the months-long pipeline protest, will headline a solidarity rally at 1 p.m. Wednesday outside the courthouse in Washington, and actress Susan Sarandon also will speak at the rally, according to a statement.
Protesters on Tuesday blocked traffic only briefly while crossing the street to get to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, and law enforcement reported no problems with the march. Dozens of passing drivers honked their horns in solidarity, though one yelled an expletive aimed at Native Americans.
Camp said protesters will refrain from violence if the judge’s ruling doesn’t go their way.
“The only way violence will happen is if the cops provoke it and they attack us,” he told Forum News Service, adding, “We have our women and we have our children. We have grandparents here.”
When asked what will happen if the judge denies the injunction and Dakota Access tries to resume construction, Camp said, “Then we’ll start blockading.”
“We’ll do what we can with our bodies to keep the machines from coming in,” he said.
Four labor unions sent Gov. Jack Dalrymple a letter strongly encouraging him to use the power of his office to keep workers safe and ensure protesters are “following the letter of the law.”
The general presidents of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and United Association (UA), said the actions of protesters endanger not only themselves but construction workers and equipment, as well as local law enforcement who’ve bolstered their local presence.
They said the pipeline has created about 4,000 construction jobs in North Dakota along 346 miles of pipeline.
“While they may have a right to protest, we also have a right to do our jobs in a safe environment,” they said.
Protesters, insisting their actions are peaceful, appealed to the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and churches to send observers to the site. They also continued to rail against what they contend is an unnecessarily heavy law enforcement presence, including a checkpoint about six miles south of Mandan that restricts southbound traffic on Highway 1806 to emergency response vehicles and local traffic such as farmers, ranchers and homeowners.