Standoff at Standing Rock
Since April 2016, thousands of native Americans and their supporters have been converging on a site in the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline which is supposed to bring fracked crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in Illinois. The protesters, led by members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, established the Sacred Stone Camp to show their opposition to the pipeline which, they say, runs across sacred land and burial grounds and could lead to pollution of their water sources. With larger numbers gathering on weekends, the Camp has become the biggest gathering of North American indigenous peoples for over 100 years. Police and private security guards deployed to contain the protests have ended in arrests, injuries and accusations of police violence. In addition to the environmental issues raised by campaigners against the pipeline the protests also focus attention on the treatment of native Americans in general and questions about land and resource distribution.
Some of the Standing Rock campaigners have pointed to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by the so-called "Bundy Gang", a group of cattle ranchers who engaged in a 41 day armed standoff with law enforcement over disputed grazing rights on federal land. All members of the group were acquitted and walked free while over 150 unarmed protesters at Standing Rock have been arrested during largely peaceful protests.
Though a temporary halt to the pipeline's construction underneath Lake Oahe, a reservoir section of the Missouri River which caused major dislocation in the 1960s when a new dam flooded some 200,000 acres of native American land, has been called, die-hard protesters are holding out at the camp in sub-zero temperatures. With the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, many fear that this small victory over Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, will be ephemeral. Having promised to revive coal and with controversial views on climate change, a Trump administration is expected to stand behind the fossil fuel industry.
Hossein Fatemi went to the Standing Rock Sacred Stone Camp on a number of occasions and met some of the thousands of protesters who have vowed to stand their ground to the bitter end.