Tahoe for Standing Rock: local groups speak out against Dakota Access Pipeline
“You can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil,” chanted a crowd of South Tahoe High School and Lake Tahoe Community College students gathered outside of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, Nov. 9.
The demonstrators, part of the volunteer group Tahoe for Standing Rock, assembled in Stateline to speak out against the Dakota Access Pipeline — a 1,172-mile pipeline slated to be constructed from oil-rich areas of North Dakota to Illinois. From there, the crude oil would then be transported to refineries on the Gulf or East coasts.
Though a number of different interest groups object to the project, Native Americans are at the center of the protest.
The Standing Rock Sioux, a tribe of around 10,000 with a reservation straddling North and South Dakota, first opposed the $3.7-billion pipeline back when it was proposed in 2014. The pipeline would travel underneath the Missouri River, the tribe’s primary source for drinking water, and traverse a sacred burial ground.
Residents of Lake Tahoe have found common ground with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe — and the thousands of protestors currently camped out near the construction site in North Dakota — for one simple reason: The importance of clean water.
“If this was happening to Tahoe, we wouldn’t let that happen. It’s sad,” said Lucero Rosales, a South Tahoe High senior, at the protest.
“This is about a lot more than what meets the eye,” said Jory Lazore, a first-year student at LTCC, while carrying signs that read, “People over pipelines” and “Water is life.”
“It’s about the respect of people and their culture, and exploiting people and the Earth for temporary profits over access to clean drinking water.”
Creators of the pipeline insist that extreme measures have been taken to ensure no leaks will occur, but opponents assert that there is no way to be certain it won’t happen.
Since 2010, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has reported more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures from oil and gas pipelines in the U.S. alone.
Environmental activists also argue that the pipeline will reinforce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, contributing to human-caused climate change.
John Dayberry, a Meyers resident and active supporter of cultural revitalization with the Washoe Tribe, has started a clothing drive around the Basin to collect warm layers and gear for the protestors as winter nears.
“At the end of September I realized that this is going to go on. Obama’s not coming in to save the day. We need to make sure these people are comfortable, especially kids and elders,” Dayberry said.
“We need to clear that gear out and get it out of there really quickly because in two weeks, the weather forecasters are predicting highs of 35-32 and lows of 7 degrees in North Dakota. These people are camping. They are in teepees.”
Donations can be dropped off at Willard’s Sport Shop in Tahoe City, Sports Ltd. in South Lake Tahoe and Watta Bike in Meyers.
“I just want the people of Tahoe to understand that they have proud roots in being ‘water protectors,’ and agencies/groups like Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, TRPA, The League to Save Lake Tahoe, and South Tahoe Public Utilities District are all a part of this protection,” Dayberry added.
Dayberry pointed to the major victory for water protection in Lake Tahoe back in the 1990s when STPUD sued big oil companies like Exxon, Chevron, Shell and Tosco after finding the gasoline additive MTBE in drinking-water wells due to leaking underground storage tanks. The district made legal history when a San Francisco court declared MTBE a defective product.
“We fought that battle. I really want Tahoe to identify with that and what’s going on in North Dakota now.”
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has called in the National Guard and other law enforcement officials to control protestors as construction of the pipeline continues.
A ski patrol medic from Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort who preferred not to be named has travelled twice to the protest site to help treat protestors who are suffering from rubber bullet and pepper spray injuries from tactics used by authorities to disperse crowds when necessary.
Tribal leaders and protestors argue, however, that law enforcement is using unnecessarily rough treatment.
At the end of October, more than 140 protestors were arrested for allegedly trespassing on pipeline property — an area that tribal leaders claim belongs to the tribe under a 19th-century treaty.
In response, the dispute turned violent with protestors lighting debris on fire, according to North Dakota Department of Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong.
“Most of these people are peaceful, prayerful people,” Fong told CNN. “But we know that there is a faction that is willing to do anything to stop this pipeline. That’s why our people went down there prepared.”
The Standing Rock tribe has sued the Army Corps of Engineers, alleging the agency violated the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act with the project.
Though litigation is ongoing, the court rejected the idea that construction of the pipeline should be halted as the case makes its way through the system.
President Obama spoke up in support of peaceful protest at a White House event for tribal leaders, saying, “You’re making your voice heard.” However, it does not seem like he will intervene as he did with the Keystone XL pipeline.
Casey Johnson, a senior at South Tahoe High, said that Lake Tahoe residents can “stand with Standing Rock” by attending a Saturday, Dec. 3, fundraising concert that is in the works.
The group is still searching for more volunteers and a venue, and event details are forthcoming.
Money raised from the event will go towards supporting Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they continue to fight the creation of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
For event updates and group initiatives, visit http://www.facebook.com/tahoeforstandingrock.