Minnesota’s Stake in the Fight Against the Dakota Access Pipeline

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“The fact that Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, would use the word “Dakota”, which means “friend” or “ally”, in the name of its project is disrespectful. This pipeline is a direct threat to all Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, especially our future generations. And we are not the only ones. We know that burning this oil is changing our climate and Indigenous people all over the world are bearing the brunt of the catastrophes that causes.”
 – Iyuskin American Horse[1]

Recently Enbridge announced its decision to pull out of the Sandpiper pipeline, a $2.6 billion project that would have run from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields through northern Minnesota – including Ojibwe wild rice lands – and to Wisconsin. This comes after years of resistance from countless environmental activists across Minnesota, including Tribal groups, environmental organizations, and more. However, this incredible defeat of the Sandpiper has been followed by Enbridge’s announcement that it is investing in the Dakota Access Pipeline instead. This means oil that would have come through the Sandpiper will be coming through North Dakota instead. While we should certainly celebrate the hard-fought defeat of the Sandpiper, we also need to be mindful of how our victory as Minnesotans may be coming at the expense of the Standing Rock Tribe and other peoples affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline. And we need to support others in these similar and related fights.

Beginning in early April, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Cannon Ball, North Dakota launched an encampment to resist construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a multibillion dollar project that is threatening to contaminate the Tribe’s primary source of water as well as their land and sacred burial sites. Over the past several months, this encampment, called the Sacred Stone Camp, has seen its numbers dwindle dangerously and struggle to survive as the mainstream media and environmental movements continued to ignore the plights and existence of Native peoples. But over the past several weeks, the Sacred Stone Camp and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have garnered mass attention worldwide through their incredible resistance to the pipeline project in the face of escalating violence from Energy Transfer Partners and the State and federal governments.

The magnitude of both the pipeline project as well as the resistance to it makes for so much to say, but for right now I will focus on just one thing – why it is important that Minnesotans support the Standing Rock Tribe and other Indigenous peoples resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (if they aren’t already). Both Minneapolis and St. Paul recently passed resolutions in support of the Standing Rock Tribe and the Sacred Stone Camp. City Council member Alondra Cano, who introduced the Minneapolis resolution, has also visited the Camp to offer her support. And many people in Minnesota, including Native people, racial justice activists, environmentalists, and more have been travelling to Standing Rock for the past several months.

In addition to the connection between the Sandpiper and the Dakota Access Pipeline, the histories of Native peoples in Minnesota and across the Midwest is significant. The people of the Standing Rock Tribe are members of the Dakota and Lakota nations. And the Dakota and Lakota peoples are the original inhabitants of Minnesota. The name “Minnesota” comes from the Dakota language, meaning cloudy water. The (ongoing) genocide of Indigenous peoples and the project of settler colonialism[2] have decimated the Indigenous population to less than 2 percent of the national population. But Minneapolis, the birthplace of the American Indian Movement, is unique in that it is home to the largest urban population of Native people in the country. And many of these people are Dakota and Lakota. This is all to say that we need to understand the histories of the land we are on, and think about environmentalism, Indigenous sovereignty, and decolonization as interconnected movements. And we need to avoid reinforcing settler colonial ways of defining the scope of issues we work on. In other words, if we don’t support the Indigenous resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline or don’t devote much attention and support to it because we don’t see it as relevant to us as Minnesotans, we are ignoring the histories of Native peoples and how those histories transgress state boundaries created by settler colonialism.

The resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline is a huge movement moment in the struggle for environmental justice, sustainability, Indigenous sovereignty, and decolonization, and it is crucial that we see all of these struggles as interdependent. For more information about how to support the Sacred Stone Camp, please see this post from Dallas Goldtooth.

Some groups, organizations, & media outlets you can follow to keep up with what is happening:

Camp of the Sacred Stone ~ Rezpect our Water ~ Indian Country Today Media Network ~ Idle No More – Twin Cities ~ Indigenous Environmental Network ~ Honor the Earth ~ Last Real Indians ~ Censored News ~ Lakota Country Times ~ OYATE Media Network ~ KILI Radio 90.1 ~ Unicorn Riot ~ Democracy Now! ~ Counter Currents News ~ The Bismarck Tribune

Some Readings:

Statement from Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, Dave Archambault II, on the Tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, August 15th 2016)

‘We are protectors, not protesters’: why I’m fighting the North Dakota pipeline by Iyuskin American Horse (The Guardian, August 18th 2016)

Native Activist Winona LaDuke: Pipeline Company Enbridge Has No Right to Destroy Our Future (Democracy Now!, August 23rd 2016)

Taking a Stand at Standing Rock by David Archambault II (The New York Times, August 24th 2016)

A Pipeline Fight and American’s Dark Past by Bill McKibben (The New Yorker, September 6th 2016)


[1] From ‘We are protectors, not protesters’: why I’m fighting the North Dakota pipeline by Iyuskin American Horse (The Guardian, August 18th 2016)

[2] For a definition of settler colonialism, see here: https://settlercolonialstudies.org/about-this-blog/


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