Students came together in the cold and rain Tuesday afternoon to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline planned to run through their sacred sites and burial grounds in North Dakota.
“We’re embracing the whole water is life theme. We don’t fear the rain,” said Harmony Knudsen, a third-semester allied health major and leader of UConn’s Native American Cultural Programs, who helped organize the demonstration.
Dressed in rain jackets and winter hats, some two dozen students waved signs and stood in solidarity with Standing Rock for nearly three hours despite freezing winds so strong their tent was thrown across Fairfield Way.
Knudsen, a member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, said the goal of the protest was to raise awareness of Energy Transfer’s pipeline project and of the abuses faced by protesters in North Dakota as part of a National Day of Solidarity with Standing Rock.
The $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline extension will pump 470,000 barrels of oil a day through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. In addition to destroying the tribe’s historic sites, allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline project to go forward would pollute the Missouri River, Standing Rock’s main source of water, Knudsen said.
The demonstration took place less than a day after the US Army Corps of Engineers released a statement inviting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to discuss how best to mitigate the impact of a potential spill from the Dakota Access Pipeline. While President Barack Obama has delayed making a decision on the pipeline’s construction, President-elect Donald Trump intends to lift the “Obama-Clinton roadblocks” to energy infrastructure projects on his first day in office, according to his 100 day plan.
“It’s been pretty dire, but there is this kind of gloom. Trump did say that in his first 100 days as president he would like to see this pipeline finished. Energy Transfer was a big supporter of Trump, one of the main funders, so there’s definitely support from the the presidency. We’re hoping that before he gets in there that we can get this shut down,” Knudsen said.
Knudsen said this is typical of how native lands are treated by the government and businesses alike.
United Nations officials released a statement on Tuesday accusing local law enforcement, Energy Transfer’s private security firms and the North Dakota National Guard of using excessive force against peaceful protesters opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Since April, protesters have faced officers in trucks and military Humvees armed with pepper spray, rubber bullets, attack dogs and high-pitched noise cannons, according to the Washington Post.
The violence Energy Transfer and its supporters in government have perpetrated against the peaceful protesters at Standing Rock is no different than the violence that originally displaced Native Americans, said Evan Fritz, a seventh-semester physics major.
“The aggression of a colonizer into an indigenous culture is always the same,” Fritz said at the protest. “Today we live the lives Christopher Columbus would have wanted us to, lives that are absentminded and lives that are heartless.”
Still, Fritz said he was encouraged by the fact that students turned out to support Standing Rock despite the harsh weather.
It’s important for University of Connecticut students, who live on what were once indigenous lands, to amplify the voices on the ground at Standing Rock by speaking out against the Dakota Access Pipeline, said Barbara Gurr, a women’s, gender and sexuality studies teaching advisor who spoke at the demonstration. Gurr, who participated in the ongoing protest in North Dakota earlier this year, said she will be returning over Thanksgiving Break.
“Over and over, what I heard was thank you for coming, your voice makes our voice louder,” Gurr said. “I know that when I go back I bring all of you with me, that I bring UConn with me.”
Gurr said one of the most powerful stories from the Dakota Access Pipeline protest is about a woman warrior who stepped into a river near Standing Rock to help protesters reach sacred land on the other side. Every time she approached the bridge, the police pepper sprayed her and she would fall back, rinse her eyes in the river and step forward again.
“This went on and on and on for almost two hours and she got pepper sprayed almost a dozen times, but she got on that f***ing bridge,” Gurr said.
Knudsen said students can take concrete steps to support Standing Rock by calling North Dakota’s governor, President Obama, the Army Corps of Engineers and Energy Transfer executives; signing the petitions to the White House and donating to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe legal fund or providing items on the protesters’ supply list.
Kimberly Armstrong is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.