(EnviroNews USA Headline News Desk) — Cannon Ball, North Dakota — United States military veterans are racing back to the front lines in the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline Project (DAPL), in an effort to shield Native American protestors, known as “[water] protectors,” from a growing militarized police force, after newly-elected President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 24, 2017, green-lighting the project’s completion.
Many are hoping the coalescence of America’s military vets will quell the use of what has been a campaign of physical force against the resistance. Since last fall, law enforcement has made over 700 arrests in the area, and has used rubber bullets, teargas, water cannons, paralyzing sonic weaponry and more, against the mixed coalition of Native Americans and their supporters.
“We’re not coming as fighters, but as protectors,” said 32-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jake Pogue, who helped organize a “vets camp” within the Sacred Stone encampment. Pogue, concerned with how police have been escalating the situation, told The Guardian, “Our role in that situation would be to simply form a barrier between water protectors and the police force and try to take some of that abuse for them.”
Obama halted DAPL in the final weeks of his presidency following fierce opposition, and instructed the Army Corps of Engineers, one of the agencies granting permits on the project, to conduct further environmental review and explore alternate pathways. But Trump has already flushed all that down the drain, and ordered the Army, and the company, to proceed as initially planned.
The move to reactivate construction on DAPL, one of Trump’s first actions as President, has reignited a fiery group of activists unwilling to allow the pipeline to be drilled underneath Lake Oahe on the Missouri River — a major source of drinking water for the tribe, and for millions more downstream.
The Standing Rock Sioux, and its chairman David Archambault II, have repeatedly reiterated to the federal government and Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company building the pipeline, that installing it under the river is an unacceptable risk to the tribe.
Countless millions, including many prominent celebrities, are now backing the Standing Rock Sioux up on that position, voicing their discontent for those behind the project, and their support for the multi-tribal community living on-site around-the-clock. Hollywood actress and star of the HBO movie series Divergent Shailene Woodley, was even arrested and charged with criminal trespassing after live-streaming protests to her large following on Facebook. Woodley awaits her trial date, set for March 31.
Veterans initially joined the fight last December after repeated efforts by the protectors to thwart the pipeline were met with violent opposition and arrests — from militarized police and security goon squads, hired by Energy Transfer Partners. Approximately 1,000 former veterans, many of them combat-seasoned, from all branches of the military, descended on the Sacred Stone Camp from all corners of the country, ready to put their bodies on the line to reinforce Native Americans, already putting their lives at risk for one simple goal: protect the water; for the people of today, and the generations of tomorrow.
When vets first arrived on the scene last year, a solemn ceremony was held where respected soldiers apologized on behalf of the United States to Native Americans as a whole, for inhumane actions toward Native peoples by the federal government. The event sent a profound message to the pipeline company, and those watching around the world.
The ceremony reached a heart-moving climax when former Army Lt. Wesley Clark Jr., son of Gen. Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, knelt before legendary Chief of the Lakota Sioux, Leonard Crow Dog Sr., “[begging] for forgiveness.”
Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain.
Then we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.
Clark explained his engagement at Sacred Stone further to YES! Editor at Large Sarah van Gelder:
I reached out to lawyers, I reached out to politicians, I reached out to members of the press. I got the Young Turks to send Jordan [Chariton] out there in October. I did everything I could to try to help this tribe. Nothing would happen. And so I was like, fuck it man, I have to go out there.
Following Obama’s pause on the project before leaving office, the encampment had largely disbanded. After Trump’s executive order came down, Chairman Archambault urged enraged protectors to stay home, avoid North Dakota’s harsh winter conditions, and let the battle go to the courts. But that plea was not heeded, as hundreds of protectors have been returning to the front lines, ready to wage a non-violent battle against Energy Transfer Partners, on behalf of Mother Earth, yet again. On, February 2, following the arrest of 74 people when a non-sanctioned camp was set up on private land, Archambault declared a “new” protest camp would be established near the original flood-prone site.
“We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,” Elizabeth Williams, an Air Force veteran who arrived at Standing Rock on Friday, told The Guardian. “We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.”
The intense struggle over DAPL last year coalesced the largest and most diverse gathering of Native Americans in over a century as thousands gathered at the Sacred Stone camp to take a stand at Standing Rock. Amazingly, the encampment received little attention in the national media spotlight until Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! captured a protest gone haywire, after Energy Transfer Partners intentionally, and knowingly plowed under sacred burial sites of the Great Sioux Nation, and then sicced attack dogs on, and deployed pepper spray against protectors. Since then, the situation has been on the country’s radar, and it’s the goal of protectors to keep the pressure on.
Another things that has many activists and concerned citizens alike up in arms, is the fact that Trump, as recently as last summer, owned stock in Energy Transfer Partners. Trump’s spokespeople have said the President dumped his shares last summer, but since he refuses to disclose his tax returns and other financial statements, nobody knows for sure if he still maintains ownership in the project.
“This is the right war, right side,” said Dan Luker, a 66-year-old Vietnam vet who traveled to Standing Rock in December. “Finally, it’s the US military coming on to Sioux land to help, for the first time in history, instead of coming on to Sioux land to kill natives.”
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Founder of the Sacred Stone camp, said she was glad to have the vets back around. “The people on the ground have no protection. The veterans are going to make sure everything is safe and sound,” she said.
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