Standing Rock: A Moral Choice for the Media

To the Editors:

Reading the prevailing mainstream coverage of the horrifying events at Standing Rock on 10/27 and 11/2, as hundreds of police from multiple states massed in military vehicles and riot gear against the unarmed, praying water protectors, I have been simply appalled. While some reporters have represented the full situation (more or less), too many have been one-sided or biased in their coverage, weighting the words of corrupt officials beholden to the oil industry and diminishing the just claims of the people being victimized as they struggle to protect the water resources not only of their tribal lands, but of the nation’s heartland. Even cursory research would have turned up the truth that there is far more to the situation than is being represented.

Here is the backstory too many articles are not mentioning: the Dakota Access pipeline was originally slated to run close to the city of Bismarck, but potential risk to the city’s water sources (!) led the project engineers to re-route the pipeline’s path across the treaty lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Note the difference here: where water needs of the citizens of Bismarck were consulted, those of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation were not. They were presented with the pipeline plans as a fait accompli, as their treaty rights were blatantly disregarded in yet another disgraceful example of this country’s double-dealing with the sovereign nations within its borders. They have been fighting this pipeline route since 2014; the current direct action resistance is simply the latest tactic.

A common statement is “(protestors) are concerned that if the pipeline ruptures, an oil spill could pollute drinking water.” Again, this gives only part of the picture. The DAPL – which is being constructed by the same company responsible for the recent leak that contaminated the Susquehanna River in Lancaster, PA – would threaten not only the Missouri River (and ultimately the Mississippi) but also the Oglala Aquifer, the nation’s largest source of ancient fresh water, on which not only the Standing Rock Sioux Nation but millions of people, Native and non-Native, depend. According to water protector Debra White Plume, reservation water is mixed from the Missouri River and the Aquifer  – which has already been compromised in places by corporate uranium mining in the Black Hills. If oil seeped with groundwater into the Oglala Aquifer, or contaminated the Missouri River, the effect would be catastrophic – and irreparable.

How likely is the pipe to leak? Take a look at this map of pipeline leaks over 5 years. In North Dakota alone, there have been 292 spills in just two years – only one of which was reported. “”Oil pipelines break, spill, and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when,” as 13-year-old Standing Rock Sioux Anna Lee Rain YellowHammer said .

More than 200 indigenous nations from the U.S., Canada, Central America, South America, and Australia, have gathered to support the Standing Rock Nation, recognizing that this issue is one of global environmental justice as represented in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – which the U.S. has endorsed.

One reporter mentioned that “earlier this month, the tribe lost an appeal in federal court, paving the way for construction on the $3.8 billion pipeline to continue.” Again, only part of the story, not mentioning that the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior immediately responded to the court’s decision with a joint statement to “cease to authorize construction” on federally controlled land.. Quoting the statement:

“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.” ( )

Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Morton County, supported by Gov. Dalrymple and the mercenary security forces serving DAPL have been ramping up their mistreatment of the water protectors. Their actions qualify as torture under the U.S. Army Field Manual – using attack dogs hoods, strip searches (including repeated strip searches of underage girls); shooting unarmed elders and supporters with rubber bullets and chemical agents at point-blank range; leaving prisoners naked in their cells for prolonged periods, penned in dog cages on cold concrete…and more. Since when was this allowable in the U.S.?

Standing Rock chairman David Archambault has appealed to the United Nations regarding the blatant violation of treaty lands and human rights. In response, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, along with Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller; Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox; and Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, have “admonished the U.S. for failing to protect protesters’ rights and failing to properly consult with communities affected by the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Amnesty International has also called for an investigation of Sheriff Kirchmeier’s inhuman tactics and documented humiliations of NoDAPL water protectors.

Both the U.N. and Amnesty International have now sent delegations to observe the treatment being meted out by the so-called law-enforcement forces.

The water protectors are supported also by science, as notes: “Close to 100 scientists have signed onto a letter decrying “inadequate environmental and cultural impact assessments” for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and calling for a halt to construction until such tests have been carried out as requested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”

If journalists are going to cover this historic story, I would hope that they would do somewhat better than the current Fox News level of lazy and one-sided coverage skewed to propitiate the same oil corporations being served by the notably corrupt Gov. Dalrymple. The Sioux nations have been waging a peaceful, prayerful resistance for the sake not only of their own water but for that of the nation’s largest aquifer and heartland rivers (see a map of the Mississippi watershed, and the rivers veining the center of the U.S. here, stating time and again “Mni Wiconi” – Water is Life – and “You Cannot Drink Oil.” And for this, self-serving media outlets have been blindly accepting a corrupt government’s portrayal of them as criminals. This is utterly unacceptable. Even a cursory YouTube search will reveal the documented evidence of human rights abuses against prayerful, nonviolent resistance.

This is a watershed issue with implications for the world (as affirmed by the delegations of indigenous nations from Canada, Central and South America, Australia and Norway to Standing Rock): the need of living beings for water is being pitted against the crushing domination of Big Oil, with its devastating impact on ecosystems and the climate. Even insiders in the oil industry are admitting that this situation represents a “political debacle” for Big Oil.

This is a moral issue for the journalists of the world: the facts you choose, the quotes you use, by default support either DAPL’s script – supporting oil extraction and spills, climate change, poisoning of the water of millions, and criminalizing those who resist – or that of the people and ecosystems of the Mississippi watershed, and the global climate. The potential impact of the stories you publish is profound.  On which side of history do you choose to land?

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