In response to months-long protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline project in North Dakota, the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs and its Global Indigenous Forum hosted a discussion between faculty experts in water security and native rights and local members of the Seminole nation.
The event, co-sponsored by the Program in the Study of Spirituality, was filled with students who wanted to understand the controversial project and find out how they could get involved in Standing Rock or other water security issues closer to home.
Here are some takeaways from the event:
Why did FIU decide to host an event on Standing Rock?
“The goal of the Global Indigenous Forum has always been to bring indigenous voices to campus,’’ said Dennis Wiedman, director of the forum and professor in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies. “These are people who are being dispossessed from their land and resources. This is a critical moment in world history. The earth is something we need to protect. The water is something we need to protect.”
What is Standing Rock?
Standing Rock is an American Indian Reservation encompassing more than 3,500 square miles and 8,200 residents in North Dakota and South Dakota. It is the sixth largest reservation in the country and home to members of the Sioux Tribe.
“This is sacred water and sacred land,” said Jennifer Veilleux, a postdoctoral associate at the Institute of Water and Environment at FIU, which also co-sponsored the event. Veilleux recently returned from Standing Rock, where she is working with the native peoples on water security issues related to DAPL. “The people fighting to protect this land and this water need our help.”
What is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)?
The $3.8 billion DAPL project is a 1,100-mile-long underground oil pipeline that would transport 570,000 barrels of oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois, crossing under the Missouri River half a mile from Standing Rock. Protestors say the pipeline would contaminate the Missouri, which provides drinking water to 18 million people and is the main water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. They also believe the pipeline will destroy environmentally sensitive and sacred lands.
Who are the water protectors?
“This is an indigenous led movement,” Veilleux explained. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 protestors and members of more than 300 Native American tribes are camped at the pipeline site in opposition to the project, creating the largest gathering of Native Tribes in the past 100 years. The protests began this spring and have drawn global attention, as well as condemnation from the United Nations and Amnesty International for perceived heavy-handed treatment of peaceful, unarmed protestors, including use of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
Why are Native Americans so opposed to this and other pipeline projects?
“These areas are our refuge,” said Sam Tommie of the Seminole Big Cypress Reservation. “That’s why the Seminoles resisted the American Indian removals and fought those wars. We have our own identity, cultural values and religious beliefs. But our values have not been respected and our voices have not been heard.”
What does this have to do with me? I live in Florida.
“You might think it has nothing to do with you but it does,” said Manuel Gomez, a professor of law who specializes in international indigenous law. “There are cultural heritage issues involved. There are human rights issues involved.”
“It’s not just happening far away,” added Bobby C. Billie, clan leader and spiritual leader of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples. “It’s happening all around the world and in your backyard too, with the Southeast Market Pipeline Project and the Sabal Trail Pipeline in Florida.
“The water is rising,” he said. “Our air, water, food and livestock are all being damaged by chemicals. If you care about living in this world, you have to stand up and do something. We are killing our future.”
What can I do?
“The first thing is to educate yourself,” Veilleux said. “We have a lot of power as people to stand with the indigenous people.”
“Learn about the issue,” added Gomez. “Read and understand. And if you want to advocate and express your opinion, you can do that too. But the first task is to become informed.”
What is the status of the project?
On Dec. 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would temporarily halt construction of the pipeline to explore alternate routes and pursue an environmental impact review. The decision does not permanently stop the pipeline, as the incoming Trump administration could attempt to thwart the Army Corps’ decision.
What happens next?
“The tribe is in a good spot legally and they have a lot of public support,” Gomez said. “I’m an optimist, I have a lot of hope. And I think the landscape for this is a lot better than it was 20 years ago.”
“We need to wake up and listen to each other and care for each other,” added Billie. “The people fighting the pipeline need your help.”
How can I get involved?
Educate yourself. Read about the situation.
Dakota Access Pipeline
Call or write lawmakers, investors and politicians.
The White House
Governor Jack Dalrymple
The Army Corps of Engineers, D.C. office: (202) 761-5903
The Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha office: (888) 835-5971
Energy Transfer Partners executives: (214) 981-0700. (Lee Hanse, executive vice president; Glenn Emery, vice president; Michael Waters, lead analyst.)