North Dakota: spilling oil, and blood

Athénaïs Rambourg decries oil-motivated violent attacks on Sioux Native Americans.

Ancestral graves are being dug up, protestors severely wounded, and federal law being infringed by oil companies and police: The reason is the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

The world has been witnessing a failure in the US democratic system. The construction of this $3.8Bn pipeline project is socially and environmentally appalling. Used to transport crude oil, it would carry 470,00 barrels per day from North Dakota to Illinois. The project violates native treaties with the US government, and construction workers have refused to acknowledge Obama’s 6-month temporary halt order, thereby breaking federal law.

Construction is almost complete and illegal drilling in the area has begun. This project is built over the ancient lands of the Sioux people, including their homes and graves. Oil spills have already jeopardised the tribe’s fresh water supplies from the Missouri River, and will continue to do so. The same river that also supplies millions more Americans with water.

One protestor was stripped and abused in a jail cell while her dead indant son’s grave was dug up during construction. Another girl lost her arm after being hit point blank by a fired-off smoke grenade. People’s rights are being ignored and stepped on, and their entire lives ruined.

The project was proposed by four pipeline companies, supervised by EnergyTransfer Partners ,and is funded by thirty-eight major worldwide banks including HSBC, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland. The tribe’s pleas to the federal and state governments have been dismissed, siding with the pipeline’s developer. Barack Obama has been vague and inactive on the matter since the protests have arisen, failing to enforce his temporary order.

Taking a step back, the pipeline is embedded in a greater movement, Divestment, represented at Newcastle University by the Fossil Free campaign.

It is important to highlight that the protestors have been peaceful since the beginning, as it is to remember that the police are attacking them with dogs, pepper spray, tasers, teargas and rubber bullets. As of November, more than 400 protestors have been arrested. Regardless, the protests have been growing bigger and stronger, the main camp now counting over 1,000 people. People from all over the world have joined the cause on social media and in the streets.

The tribe gathering in the US is critical as it is the biggest since the late nineteenth century. Given that court judgements have refused the project’s termination, people are left with direct action such as sit-ins, or boycott strategies, like writing letters to banks and switching bank accounts.

This project is only an extension of the modern fracking-frenzy and shows how oil lobbying remains in opposition to common interests while   extending human rights abuses. If Democracy is representing the people,  it only takes a glance at this war on the Sioux tribe to see that Democracy dies with them.

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