Discussion to focus on controversial pipeline, protests

| Judy Berthiaume

Protests around a controversial oil pipeline that critics say could harm the environment and threaten Native American historic, religious and cultural sites in the Upper Midwest will be the topic of a discussion this month at UW-Eau Claire.

A #NoDAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) panel discussion will begin at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, in the Woodland Theater of Davies Center.

“Our hope is that the panel will open a broader conversation about the nature of the protests and what’s at stake, not only for the Standing Rock community but also communities downstream of Cannonball whose water quality would be seriously compromised in the event of an oil spill,” said Dr. Debra Barker, director of the American Indian Studies program at UW-Eau Claire.

Monday’s panel will feature Wilfrid Cleveland, president of the Ho-Chunk Nation; Dr. David Soll, a UW-Eau Claire assistant professor in the Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies and an environmental historian; and Dr. Robert Bell, an associate lecturer in American Indian Studies and an expert on 19th-century treaty agreements that are germane to the protest.

In recent months, thousands of protesters, including many Native Americans and environmental activists, have gathered in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, hoping to stop the 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline.

If completed, the $3.7 billion pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of oil a day across four Midwestern states, with oil flowing from North Dakota near the Canadian border, through South Dakota and Iowa, to southern Illinois, where it would link with existing pipelines.

Energy Transfer Partners is leading the project, which it says will bring millions of dollars to local economies and create thousands of construction jobs.

The pipeline would cut across the Missouri River, which is a main source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, as well as millions of people who live in cities downstream.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe fear an oil spill would permanently contaminate their water supply, and construction of the pipeline would destroy many sacred sites.

“This issue is ultimately a human rights issue, as well as an environmental justice one,” said Barker. “The protesters call themselves the ‘Water Protectors,’ and they remind the public that ‘mni wiconi’— water is life.”

Numerous environmental groups oppose the pipeline, and Democratic members of Congress also have voiced their opposition to the project.

In recent months, hundreds of protesters have been arrested in North Dakota, and clashes between protesters and law enforcement officials have become more violent.

“President Cleveland has already traveled to Cannonball, so he will share his experience as a witness and his perspective as a tribal leader who has had to contend with private corporate entities that present affronts to the sovereign status of Indian Nations, as well as threats to the health of environments near tribal settlement areas,” Barker said of Monday’s panel discussion.

“Yankton Sioux elder, Faith Spotted Eagle, has said that Lakota sacred sites have been violated during the course of the pipeline installation process,” Barker said. “These sites encompass burial grounds of Lakota ancestors. She draws an analogy to a special interest enterprise digging up and displacing the graves at Arlington National Cemetery, implying that the disturbance of the graves of those who have walked on stands as a social justice issue.”

Barker said the land transversed by Energy Transfer Partners still legally belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, according to an 1851 treaty agreement.

“Treaties are legal contracts,” Barker said. “In the contract, the Standing Rock Nation signed, the tribe understood that the land would forever remain theirs, as it was in the first place.”

On Monday, all three panelists will answer questions, and share their respective views and pertinent information, Barker said.

During the discussion, the Inter Tribal Student Council students also plan to show a 42-minute video blog created by a young Dakota man who videotaped his weekend road trip to the camps at Sacred Stone.

“The tape needs serious editing, but audiences will find the on-the-ground daily activities of interest,” Barker said.

The ITSC and the AIS Program are sponsoring the event.

The panel discussion was organized after ITSC student leaders asked that an event be organized on campus to bring attention to the protests at Cannonball.

The #NoDAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) panel discussion is free and open to the public.

Photo caption: Thousands of people have gathered in North Dakota to protest a pipeline that they say threatens Native American sacred lands as well as drinking water.