A Pipeline Runs Through It…

 In North Dakota, the mobilisation against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) continues around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Around the world people have started to organize to support the opponents of this pharaonic project. This was the case in Tromsø on Sunday the 27th of November in Prelaten Kro og scene, a bar and concert hall. There, the støttekonsert for Standing Rock (support concert) gathered more than twenty musicians and in order to inform peoples of Tromsø about the ongoing struggle, to exchange about what is at stake here, and to stand in solidarity with the “water protectors”.

 Text: Basile Maytraud

It’s an old story, going on for hundreds of years. That of the American Frontier, the conquest of the West lands, and the genocide of the Native Americans. In many respects, the construction of a 1172 miles (1886 km) and 30-inch diameter (76cm) buried pipeline by the Texan company Energy Transfer Partner is a late incarnation of this facet of the US history. Intended to transport crude oil through four states, from the Bakken and Three Forks extraction sites in North Dakota to a terminus near Patoka, Illinois (see on map), the pipeline would run less than half a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. However, it would cross Sioux sacred lands, where ancestors of the tribe are buried. In addition to that, it would pass underneath the Missouri river. In case of leakage, this could threaten the drinking water to the inhabitants of Standing Rock ( it is argued that the construction and maintenance of a pipeline will be a step forward towards US energetic independency and a have a very beneficial impact on local economies. The project will create around ten thousand jobs during the first phase. Moreover, the pipeline transporting “as much as 570,000 barrels per day” will generate “$55 million annually in property taxes” to the fourth states it would cross. “We’re not opposed to economic development, we’re not opposed to energy independence, but we’re tired of paying for it” explains Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock tribal chairman. This summer, the United States Army Engineer Corps has provided the oil corporation the federal authorisation which it needed to dig under bodies of water. So the project is perfectly legal. As legal as the Homestead Act was: voted in 1862 and signed by president Abraham Lincoln, this law played a crucial role in the colonisation of the American West. During the Civil War, this policy, allowed any adult who had never taken up arms against the U.S government to buy a 160 acre piece of land at very low prices. The Homestead Act stimulated Northern farmers to exploit natural resources on their own, as opposed to relying upon slavery. It greatly favoured the settlement of pioneers and farmers, mostly at the west of the Mississippi river, without giving any consideration to the natives inhabitants who used to live there. Who in turn were chased away, when lucky, or massacred on the spot.


The protests at Standing Rock are somehow tied to this past. As the mobilisation is gaining strength, the law enforcement response is getting tougher. In the last few months, around two hundred tribes have joined the opposition movement in North-Dakota In addition to that, the protest has attracted hundreds of other citizens concerned with indigenous peoples rights and environmental issues. These “water protectors”, as they called themselves, are gathered in a camp they occupy since April 2016, close to the construction site. Most of them protest peacefully, marching and praying. However, some acts of violence have been reported which have led to roughly… 500 arrests since August, according to the Morton County District Court Clerk’s Office. Energy Transfer Partners wants to take Mr. Archambault and six other representatives of the mobilisation to the federal court. They accuse them of blocking access to the construction site, threatening workers and, ironically, trespassing onto private land. On the other hand, several testimonies and newscast denounce the violent attitudes of some security agents hired by the construction company. Yet, the federal authorities have not troubled a single one of them. With the governor declaring a state of emergency, national guards have arrived to protect the site. They are permitted the use of “less-than-lethal” weapons such as rubber bullets, percussion grenades and water hoses against the activists. One could say that there is a veritable militarisation of the energy industry occurring. A couple of days ago, on November the 28th, the governor of North Dakota has ordered the immediate evacuation of the main encampment of the protestors. But beyond this violence, is there any attention accorded to their claims? Earlier in November, president Obama declared: “there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans, and I think that right now the army corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline.” That was before Donald Trump’s election, which plays directly in favour to the “Black Snake” – the name activists gave to the crude oil pipeline. Indeed, the 45th president’s economic program is accentuated on US energy independency, and the unconditional defence of the US companies. The DAPL route didn’t change one iota yet.


So what exactly tied us, here in Norway, here in Tromsø, to what’s occurring in North Dakota? First, in the age of global warming we all are concerned with the ecological impact that the exploitation of fossils energy has. As a matter of fact, this autumn in Tromsø is the warmest since the 1940’s. What’s more, the ongoing struggles of the Sami people in Northern Norway is a continuous reminder of indigenous people’s rights. Finally, Norwegian actors are somehow implicated in the DAPL project: Den Norske Bank (DNB) has recently sold the assets it had in the disputed project, thanks to a petition gathering 120,000 signatures. It did not however cancel the $2,8 million loan to the company – an important amount of money representing 7,6% of the investments for this $3,7 billion project. The Oljfondet (Norwegian Oil Fund) a state pension found (it is to say public savings) is also a financial partner of Dakota Accesshas shares in three of the companies involved in the construction of the pipeline!has shares in three of the companies involved in the construction of the pipeline!. With this in mind, several persons in Tromsø decided to react and rally in order to support the demonstrators. Synnøve Angell is one of them. She recently visited the camp close to the Standing Rock reservation and participated in the struggle to protect our Mother Earth. Back in Tromsø, she initiated the concert which took place in Prelaten last Sunday. When she first asked the musicians to participate in a support and solidarity concert, they all agreed. The only question asked was if it would be possible to play more than three songs.


In total, more than twenty artists, musicians but also poets, gathered for a four hours long event. In front of a packed room, various kinds of music filled the stage on after another: from Niko Valkeapää’s traditional folk, to Ulf-Ivan Olsen & Band’s punk rock, from Benoit Tamba & Band’s Afrosalsa to Yoiks. One of the performer of this traditional Sami song told the audience that the inspiration came to him “through the ocean”, from Standing Rock. Marry Ailonieida Somby’s poetry resonated with a humble rage: “America is a big oil company” she chanted. The whole night guitars, violin, piano, drums, saxophone, banjo, contrabass, and voices united in a call for justice, for our common responsibility to protect the nature and for consideration of the native’s rights. A sign of solidarity, the concert hall was made available for free to the organisers of the event. After deducting the expenses due to the organisation of the concert, mainly to pay the technicians, the money collected to support the protest amounts to NOK20000: NOK16000 come from tickets sales and NOK4000 from handicrafts and donated books sold at the entrance of the bar. The supplies will be provided to the camp, via its website (, and will be used there to buy what is needed for the daily life through the winter: medical equipment, food, shelters and so on. Moreover, a record of the concert will be send to the campers and hopefully provide them some warmth from the Tromsø polar night. As the last notes of music were muffled by the snow outside, on the town’s sidewalks, another support concert for Standing Rock started in Washington D.C. Such events seem to be an effective way for people to take a stand not only via social networks, but concretely and in a good mood: dancing, singing, giving to every participants the opportunity to meet people involved in the struggle. These meetings might inspire future actions. In other words, citizens exercising their rights about a subject they feel concerned with, in a democratic, yet pro-active way. What is at stake at Standing Rock is relevant in terms of indigenous peoples rights and environmental issues. But it also calls into question the capitalist socio-economic development model, for an important part of this model resting on the exploitation of natural resources. This natural wealth destruction for a purpose of economic wealth production raises important political matters. The way the profit made out of this exploitation is used, how it may benefit the population, and to which part of it, are central preoccupations that have to be addressed. But beyond this calculation stands this proverbial speech, commonly attributed to the Sioux warrior Sitting Bull (1831-1890), which must be considered: “When the last tree will have been cut down, the last stream polluted, the last fish caught, they’ll figure out that money cannot be eaten.”

Breaking News!

On the 4th of December, the US Army Corps Engineer has finally denied an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline near the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, thanks to the pressure of the Obama administration. The pipeline though might be rerouted.But petrol lobbyists have already call for Donald Trump to reconsider this «historic» decision when he will take office in January. To be continued…»