Indigenous Women Are Crucial To The Fight Against Dakota Pipeline

As of Tuesday night, Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer has directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement necessary for the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The final easement would allow the pipeline to cross beneath Lake Oahe, a burial site sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux, the Native American tribe leading the opposition against the DAPL.

Last week, Donald Trump signed orders to advance approval of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, paving the way for construction on the project that was originally halted by the Obama Administration in December.

The Standing Rock Sioux responded to the announcement calling it premature and plan to “vigorously pursue legal action“ against Trump to force him to honor the corps’ previous pledge to undertake an environmental review process.

The four-state 1,172 mile long pipeline, constructed by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, will transport crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The project has faced intense resistance since its conception.

Standing Rock has become an internationally recognized symbol for indigenous rights, drawing together thousands of protesters over the spring, including representatives from more than 300 Native American tribes.

The Standing Rock Sioux warn if the pipeline were to leak or burst, it would poison the Missouri River, their primary source of water which they rely on for everything from bathing to drinking.

Native tribal leaders have also argued that the project has dire consequences for local indigenous women due to the likely influx of highly paid oil workers moving to labor camps, called “man camps,” along the pipeline.

In the past, many indigenous women have been forced into prostitution or have become victims of sexual assault by non-native men living in these “man camps,” leading to an alarming rise in violence and trafficking in the Native American communities surrounding pipeline construction.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a continuation of the exploitation and violation of the rights of indigenous people by the predatory mining and pipeline industries.

Women have historically held positions of power in and out of the home within indigenous communities, and now indigenous women are providing the backbone for and leading the fight to stop the construction of the DAPL.

Indigenous women were the first to go up against bulldozers in an attempt to protect sacred lands and water.

Female water protectors are the core spiritual leaders who have been strategizing how to block the pipeline and were the ones planning actions to oppose the police force that serves to protect the oil corporation.

Elder women have led prayer circles directly on land where construction is planned, even under threat of arrest.

Young women have faced off against high-pressured water cannons, tear-gas, and rubber bullets during increasingly tense standoffs with militarized police forces.

One woman protester was even reported to have been hit by a concussion grenade during a confrontation with local authorities.

 Women’s contributions haven’t just been on the front lines – women have also provided vital support such as working as paramedics, midwives, or herbalists, setting up health clinics to provide healing services.

Women have been running kitchens to prepare and serve food to thousands at the camp each day, caring for children, or readying the warriors for their marches – these domestic duties, that may seem subservient to a Western frame of reference, are performed with honor.

For some indigenous women activists, the movement has become a larger battle against a history of oppression by law enforcement.

Indigenous people have long suffered police brutality and fatal shootings – studies show that Native Americans are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by the police.

Indigenous women also endure law enforcement inaction during human trafficking crises and sexual assault epidemics in their communities, exemplified by lack of police response to crimes that are traced to “man camps” during pipeline construction.

Morton County Police have been accused of sexually humiliating water protectors – they have reportedly been violently arresting, brutally strip-searching, and holding protestors for days without bond.

One woman was arrested and stripped, and then left naked through the night in a cell.
The Standing Rock Movement refuses to back down.

The Indigenous Environmental Network, an organization dedicated to blocking further
construction of the DAPL, said they are “prepared to mobilize and resist this brazen power grab” in response to the corps’ announcement yesterday.

According to LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a member of the Lakota Sioux and founder of the Sacred Stone Camp,

“Water is life. Water is the center of everything. Water is female. As females, we must stand up for the water. We have no choice. Without water, we all die. It’s common sense to me. We must save the water.”

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Joshel Melgarejo

Joshel Melgarejo, PGP: she/her, is a journalist, activist, and photographer with a BA in Political Science from Hunter College. Her interests include petting bodega cats, gorging on ethnic street food, collecting bottle caps (for the post-nuclear apocalypse), attending rad punk shows, and smashing imperialism.