In the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive orders reviving the highly controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, Native Americans and their allies protested around North America this week.
Two of the larger demonstrations against Trump’s orders occurred in New York City on Tuesday and San Francisco on Thursday. Thousands of people turned out on short notice, braving freezing rain to protest Trump and the pipelines in Manhattan. Hundreds more rallied at a federal building in San Francisco, where activists projected images and slogans, including “mni wiconi, ” or “water is life” in Lakota, on the face of the building in the city’s South of Market district.
“We stand with Standing Rock. We will defeat this pipeline,” vowed Isabella Zizi, a member of the Northern Cheyenne, Ariaka and Muskogee tribes and activist with Idle No More SF Bay, told the peacefully gathered crowd. “No Dakota Access Pipeline! We must transition away from the fossil fuel industry and we can live a beautiful, loving life on the only planet we have.”
Gloria Esteban, an activist for undocumented immigrants, slammed “the one percent who is trying to take everything from us.” Esteban also lamented the European colonizers who committed genocide against the indigenous Americans, who continue to suffer tremendously today.
“We native people opened up our hearts, opened up our lands and accepted them and this is how they’re treating us now,” said Esteban, who is part Zapoteca.
Sara Shor, national manager of the climate action group 350.org’s “Keep it in the Ground” campaign, said “a huge movement will be resisting this project at every turn.”
“Millions of people led by indigenous communities on the front lines have held back this pipeline before and we plan to do it again,” said Shor to loud applause. “Throughout history it has taken people power to resist injustice and that’s what we plan to do, stand in the way… of the companies trying to build the pipeline, the government agencies trying to approve the pipelines and the banks trying to fund these pipelines.” Shor urged people to divest their money from banks funding the pipelines.
“This isn’t just about DAPL or Keystone XL,” insisted Shor. “It’s about fighting back against a fossil fuel billionaire Trump administration and extractive projects that threaten our air, our water and our climate here in the Bay Area and across the country. When Trump signed this order what he really did was mobilize millions of people to resist.”
Zizi urged the protesters to fight back “with love, courage and strength.”
“We need clean water, we need clean air and clean soil in order to live in a safe way,” she said. “We cannot think only about ourselves, we have to think about the future generations. We do this for the children, for the plants, animals, fish and everything.”
President Trump, who told automakers he is an “environmentalist” on the same day he signed the pipeline orders, is keen on building the pipelines as a way to achieve US energy independence and boost the economy. He is also reportedly personally invested in Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind DAPL. The president claims Keystone XL alone will generate 28,000 “great construction jobs.” However, experts say the project will generate mostly temporary jobs and that Trump’s figures are greatly exaggerated. Rep. Raúl M Grijalva (D-AZ), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, wrote in a Guardian editorial that Keystone XL will create only 35 permanent jobs.
In addition to environmental concerns — DAPL’s original route was rejected because the mostly white residents of Bismarck, North Dakota feared the consequences of a spill, and the Missouri River is a drinking water source for around 17 million Americans, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe say DAPL threatens sacred sites and violates treaty rights. Keystone XL, which would transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the US Gulf Coast, is opposed by leading Native American and environmental groups because it would transport what the National Congress of American Indians calls “the world’s dirtiest and most environmentally destructive form of oil.”
Hundreds of Native American and allied protesters, who call themselves water protectors,” remain encamped at Standing Rock despite sub-zero temperatures and the threat of police violence. Water protectors have been beaten, shot with “less lethal” projectiles that resulted in horrific injuries and mauled with dogs — images of an attack dog with blood dripping from its teeth and snout shocked the conscience of the world and helped galvanize opposition to the pipeline.