With financial help, students to join pipeline protest

American Indian students will travel to Sacred Stone Camp to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

by Rilyn Eischens

Students from the University of Minnesota are gearing up to join the ongoing opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction later this month.

American Indian studies students will receive financial help from their department to make the trek to North Dakota, and other students have found ways to support the movement on their own.

Second-year doctoral candidate John Little is part of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and he and other students went to Sacred Stone Camp, the main site where protesters have congregated, about a month ago.

“That was the first time I’d been [to Standing Rock] in about a year,” he said. “It was really great to be a part of that for even a few days.”

But it’s difficult for students to find time to make the 470-mile drive to North Dakota during the semester, he said.

“A lot of the indigenous voices speaking on this are not really there as much as they’d like to be,” Little said.

He said he and his friends have found ways to support the cause from afar now that the school year has started — such as donating money and buying buttons to spread awareness to other students on campus.

Summer Lara, University American Indian Student Cultural Center’s community outreach coordinator, said the AIS Department agreed to cover transportation costs for a group that wants to travel to North Dakota this month.

They also want to rally groups from other disciplines, such as law and environmental science, because the pipeline could have negative environmental impacts, she said.

“I’m mostly worried about the fact that it will leak, especially since it does go underneath the Missouri River a few times … especially with a tribe like Standing Rock. That’s … their main source of water,” she said.

The Dakota Access Pipeline passes within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and would stretch about 1,170 miles from North Dakota to Illinois, passing through South Dakota and Iowa on the way, according to Energy Transfer Partners.

The $3.78 billion pipeline is supposed to be functional by the end of 2016, but the federal government issued a temporary injunction halting progress in September, said University American Indian studies professor David Wilkins.

Sacred Stone Camp is the main site where protestors organize and was set up in April.

Sacred Stone Camp is the largest multi-tribe gathering to take place in about 150 years, said University environmental communications senior Kyle Samejima, who went there this summer with her daughter.

“We went kind of as allies to support the movement … partly from the environmental racism standpoint,” she said.

Samejima estimated that about 1,000 people were there that weekend and said the protests were peaceful. There were many acts of solidarity at the gathering, such as the sharing of tobacco peace pipes among members of different tribes.

Samejima also opposes the pipeline from an environmental standpoint. She said companies need to stop extracting fossil fuels from the ground.

She hopes the Standing Rock protests will provide a model for opposition to pipeline construction elsewhere.

“People are fighting [pipelines] all over the country,” she said. “It’s encouraging, [but] it’s daunting because I think all these companies are going to give it their all at the end of this.”