More than 100 marchers attended a rally in Cortez City Park on Saturday to support the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline protest at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.
At issue, said the organizers, is the potential risk for contamination of the Missouri river from a proposed oil pipeline that would cross under the waterway.
Organizer Heidi Brugger, of Cortez, led marchers on the sidewalk around the block, as they carried protest signs and chanted “Water is life” and “You can’t drink oil, leave it in the soil.”
People honked horns in support, as marchers crossed Main Street obeying the walk signal with plain-clothed police officers helping to guide the crowd. Traffic was not obstructed during the peaceful rally.
The Standing Rock and Red Warrior protest camps at the Sioux reservation have drawn support from more than 200 Native Tribes, including the Ute Tribes, as well as non-natives, Brugger said.
Arvin Wall, of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, said he attended the rally to support the Sioux’s effort to stand up for better protection of their water sources.
“We’re standing together as tribes to say we are not afraid to demand that the water be protected, not ban oil, but regulate it in a safer way,” Wall said. “Putting it in a pipeline is a way to save the company money, but I feel it is a greater risk than transporting by rail.”
Wall recently visited the protest camps in North Dakota to “listen to the issues and see for myself what was going on.”
He saw thousands at the camps of all different races and was appalled to see pipeline construction that was “tearing up sacred sites.”
Rally participant Charlene Draper, a Navajo from Cortez, said she relates to the Sioux’s concerns about protecting their water.
“When I grew up, we were told not to drink the water out of the faucet because of contamination from uranium mines on our reservation,” she said. “All it takes is one spill, and the water and land is contaminated. I can see both sides, we use oil and it provides jobs but I’d rather see more renewable resources like solar and wind that are easier on the Earth.”
Sonya Lefthand, of Towaoc, carried a sign that showed Dale American Horse Jr., of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, protesting at the Standing Rock camp in North Dakota.
“There are too many oil accidents, and I’m worried this is in the wrong area because it provides water for so many people,” she said.
Helen First, a Navajo from Chinle, Arizona, said the pipeline location smacks of discrimination.
“It was supposed to go through Bismark, but they said they didn’t want it so they sent it down the road to the Standing Rock reservation,” she said. “I feel they are exploiting Native lands.”
Several speakers spoke at the flag pavilion at the park, including Native American comedian Adrianne Chalepah of Cortez, a Ute Mountain Ute elder, and Ute Mountain Ute council member Juanita Plentyholes.
“Federal policy has been bypassed regarding this pipeline plan,” Plentyholes said. “Under executive order, federal agencies are supposed to engage in meaningful consultation with tribes on projects impacting reservation communities, but this was not done in this case.”
Ute Mountain Ute elder Betty Howe, of Towaoc, sang a song in support of the Sioux, and held prayers in Ute language and English.
“All over this nation, you have support,” she said. “This protest is not just for native peoples but for all people because we all deserve protection of our water.”
Owned by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project would carry nearly a half-million barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota’s oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois, where shippers can access Midwest and Gulf Coast markets. Announced in 2014, supporters said the pipeline would create more markets and reduce truck and oil train traffic — the latter of which has been a growing concern after a spate of fiery derailments of trains carrying North Dakota crude. The pipeline would help cut costs for Bakken region drillers, which have had to turn to more expensive rail shipments when existing pipes filled up.
A lawsuit by the Standing Rock Sioux challenged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permits at more than 200 water crossings. Filed on behalf of the tribe by environmental group Earthjustice, the suit says the project violates several federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, and will disturb sacred sites outside of the 2.3-million acre reservation.
The lawsuit alleged that the pipeline, which would be placed less than a mile upstream of the reservation, could impact drinking water for more than 8,000 tribal members and millions who rely on it downstream. A separate lawsuit filed by the Yankton Sioux tribe in South Dakota challenged the same thing. ETP says the pipeline includes safeguards such as leak detection equipment, and workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close block valves on it within three minutes if a breach is detected.
Opponents are also concerned a spill along the pipeline route puts at risk productive farmland.
On Sept. 9, a federal judge denied the tribe’s request to stop construction of the pipeline. But the federal government quickly stepped in, stopping work on one section and asking the pipeline company to do the same on a larger 40-mile swath.
A federal moratorium issued by the Department of Justice, Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior is blocking pipeline construction until further study is done on the potential impacts in the region around Lake Oahe, located near the junction of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers.
The protest encampment has been called the largest gathering of Native Americans in a century, and the first time all seven bands of Sioux have come together since Gen. George Custer’s 1876 expedition at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
A joint task force of North Dakota and federal officials is investigating a clash between Dakota Access pipeline protesters and private security guards earlier this month, a county sheriff announced Tuesday. The task force also is looking into whether tribal artifacts were disturbed at the site as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has argued.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is heading up the probe of the Sept. 3 incident on private land, after which private security guards and protesters reported injuries. Tribal officials say about 30 protesters were pepper-sprayed and some were bitten by dogs at the construction site near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.