I read with sadness retiring North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s Op/Ed piece in the Star Tribune “Dakota Access pipeline: Mob rule triumphed over law and common sense.”
In the piece, Dalrymple reduces the story to one of North Dakota as victim to environmental agitators and outsiders “that have never before shown much interest in our state.” That is a convenient political frame, as it reduces pipeline opponents to “other” or “enemy.”
Despite Dalrymple’s assertions, this is not a story about outside environmental agitators indifferent to North Dakota. This is a story of a people who have faced a long history of suffering, broken promises, and injustices and are facing them again. This is a story of national concern about the Dakota Access Pipeline that involves everyone from religious leaders to Wall Street.
And that’s a story Dalrymple apparently doesn’t want to discuss.
What is needed now is not a fictional story blaming outsiders for all the problems. What is needed now is leadership to bring about dialogue, understanding, and healing.
That is a role I wish Dalrymple had chosen to play.
Let’s take a look at his analysis. It has a very familiar ring.
Letter From a Birmingham Jail
Dalrymple’s logic echoes that of eight white clergymen who criticized Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for protesting the treatment of blacks in Birmingham in 1963. King was arrested and put in jail for breaking a city injunction against protests.
Both the clergy letter and Dalrymple’s Op/Ed emphasizes the need for law and order and blame problems on outside agitators.
The clergy letter started out:
We the undersigned clergymen are among those who, in January, issued “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense,” in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed. …
When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets.
Here’s how Dalrymple discusses the situation near Standing Rock:
While the right to disagree with projects such as the DAPL absolutely exists, and those who disagree are welcome to exercise their right to free speech, it should never be acceptable to ignore facts and trample on a legal process that was followed carefully. …
This truly tramples on a legal and orderly process in favor of mob rule.
(Who actually created the “mob” violence is something to be discussed later.)
Here’s what the eight white clergymen wrote regarding outsiders:
However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely. …
[W]e believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area …
Here’s what Dalrymple wrote in his Op/Ed about outsiders:
Who are these people who have come from all over the country to Cannonball? Hundreds are peaceful protesters, drawn to the general cause of environmental protection by a flood of social media calling for their “help.” But many are actually professional agitators recruited by large environmental activist organizations to intimidate people to drop their support for the project. …
What has ultimately happened here in our state is that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s voice has now become largely overshadowed.
King’s response was to write his now famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It still rings true for Standing Rock:
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
At Standing Rock, they say Mitakuye Oyasin, Lakota for “We are all related.”
Using Paid Agitators
While Dalrymple decries “paid agitators”, he provides no facts for his assertions. Who is he talking about? The Sierra Club? Honor the Earth? Have there been arrests and charges against paid agitators?
Mother Jones and other media outlets have reported about a DAPL security guard who showed up at the Water Protectors camp with an assault rifle. That might qualify as a paid agitator. But where is Dalrymple’s proof?
Dalrymple says there have been 500 arrests, most for trespassing, but some for violent, threatening and destructive behavior. This is not a highly organized movement and some people are operating outside of the expected norms of prayerfulness and non-violence. And to the extent there is violence, it doesn’t mean the violence is coming from paid agitators, it could be coming from a place of youthful anger.
The number of arrests for violent behavior does not appear high. Dalrymple owes readers more to back up the narrative he is creating — that paid environmental outside agitators are a driving force in this movement. He does not provide it
There are plenty of first-hand accounts that offer a very different view of camp life. For instance, Bishop Ann Svennungsen of the ELCA’s Minneapolis Area Synod wrote the following: “In my visit to Standing Rock I was overwhelmed by the prayerfulness, humility, discipline, and peacefulness of the people gathered there.”
Many faith leaders have traveled to Standing Rock to show their support. Based on research and experiences, various religious denominations have come out with statements of support for Standing Rock.
- Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (Nov. 30, 2016)
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Nov. 14, 2016 by the ELCA presiding Bishop Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
- Minnesota Annual Conference, United Methodist Church, Aug. 31, 2016 by Bishop Bruce R. Ough
- Mennonite Central Committee, Aug. 31, 2016 by Michelle Armster, MCC Central States Executive Director
- Unitarian Universalist Association: Aug. 30, 2016 by UUA President Rev. Peter Morales
- Presbyterian Church USA, Aug. 29, 2016, by Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson III, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in conjunction with the Rev. Irvin Porter
- The Episcopal Church, Aug. 25, 2016, by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
- The United Church of Christ, Aug. 23, 2016: Collegium Statement of Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation
These people are not paid environmental agitators. Is Gov. Dalrymple aware of their concerns and how does he respond? Does he believe they have all been duped?
Who Created the Violence?
Dalrymple’s Op/Ed refers to law enforcement’s “exemplary management” of protesters. “We are proud of the restraint and professionalism of our officers,” he said. That is a shocking statement, given how DAPL security and law enforcement provoked and intimidated the Water Protectors.
DAPL intentionally dug in areas marked by Standing Rock as sacred. Sheriff’s deputies used fire hoses against the water protectors in freezing temperatures, as well as rubber bullets and tear gas. At night, they used flood lights and helicopters over the Oceti Sakowin camp to try to interrupt people’s sleep. Once arrested, people were ill treated.
Here are two statements from the United Nations investigators raising concerns about the use of excessive force against the water protectors and a war zone atmosphere that was created.
- Native Americans facing excessive force in North Dakota pipeline protests — UN Expert. Statement released by the U.N Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Nov. 15, 2016.
- UN Expert Releases Report on Conditions Surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline, Nov. 1, 2016: Reprinted Nov. 9 in Cultural Survivor.
Is Dalrymple aware of these statements and how does he respond?
Failure to Participate in the Process
Dalrymple criticizes the Standing Rock Nation for failing to engage in the pipeline siting process. He says the process started in 2014 with a filing at the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
A 13-month review process included public-input meetings held across the state. As a result of these meetings, the route was modified 140 times to ensure environmental safety … First and foremost, not one person from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe attended any of the meetings and hearings publicly noticed by state regulators over the course of two years.
Dalrymple’s basic premise is that Standing Rock was supposed to show up and get in line at Public Service Commission meetings along with John Q. Citizen. That is patronizing and says a lot about how Dalrymple views Native nations. He fails to allow for the fact that Standing Rock is a sovereign nation and the state of North Dakota should show it deference in communicating and seeking comment.
And, as will be described further below, Standing Rock has ample reason not to trust the process or believe its concerns will be taken seriously.
More importantly, Dalrymple left out key information. As late as May, 2014, the plan called for DAPL to cross the Missouri north of Bismarck, well away from the Standing Rock Nation. In September 2014, out of concern for the risk the pipeline posed to drinking water in Bismarck and other reasons, Energy Transfer Partners rerouted DAPL to cross the Missouri River near Standing Rock, according to this Bismarck Tribune story.
Three months later, in December, Energy Transfer Partners submitted its application to the Public Service Commission. So Standing Rock had at most a few months to comment after the new route was put forward and when a formal plan was presented. (And in fact, they did express opposition to DAPL staff. See our earlier blog: Free, Prior and Informed Consent: A DAPL Dispute.)
While Dalrymple defends this process, Wall Street has concerns about it. For instance, investment firm Boston Common Asset Management issued the statement: “We Stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.” It reads in part:
We are troubled by the manner in which Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. [ETP] has approached the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP)….
Although ETP claims that they consulted the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on the DAP, their approach was entirely inadequate in our view. They only consulted with the Tribe after the pipeline had received approval from the Army Corps, not during the planning stage. Moreover, according to Tribal leaders, their consultation was merely to inform the Tribe of their plans; they had no intention to gain agreement or community support.
And other Wall Street investors are raising concerns about DAPL, too. See: DAPL’s Financial Risks Raise Red Flags on Wall Street. A Dec. 1 Bloomberg story headlined: Investors Take Stand on Dakota Access Pipeline states:
Investors concerned about the Dakota Access Pipeline have started submitting shareholder proposals to the energy companies building the pipeline as well as to the lenders behind it, urging the companies to better disclose the risks to their business from the controversial investment.
The third largest U.S. pension plan, the $178.6 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, is one of the investors leading the charge.
These are not environmental agitators, but major investors. Dalrymple’s piece did not mention their concerns. How does he respond?
This is not an Isolated Incident
Lastly, Dalrymple ignores important context. The anger and prayers for help coming from Standing Rock are rooted in a long and painful history. Consider the Garrison Dam project that backed up the Missouri River for flood protection. It flooded a lot of tribal land. The state’s own website notes that the early 1980s, the Three Affiliated Tribes sought compensation. A state report pointed out that Standing Rock and Fort Berthold Reservations shouldered an inordinate share of the cost of the dam. According to the report:
- The tribes were not only unwilling to sell their land, but strongly opposed the taking of their land.
- They felt intimidated by the fact that construction on the dams began before Indian lands were acquired. They then felt that the taking of their lands was inevitable
- During the negotiation phases, assurances were given expressly or by implication by various federal officials that problems anticipated by the Indians would be remedied. The assurances raised expectations which, in many cases, were never fulfilled.
So here we go again. Standing Rock is being asked to bear the burden for a project from which it does not benefit. Given history, it is not surprising if Standing Rock doesn’t trust the state process and is standing up for its rights in the best way it knows how. And many people are rightly coming to support them.