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"We say 'mni wiconi': Water is life."

-- David Archambault II, chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

"Accentuate the positive," we are told in matters of attitude, and that notion has evidently found its way into activism. Those Native American Sioux of the Standing Rock Reservation, who are gathered along a pipeline pathway in North Dakota, are not -- repeat "not" -- holding a "protest." They are holding a "protect." And, that's a positive thing.

Oil companies and their pipeline tentacles call what they are doing to land and water "progress," and for their money that's probably true. However, these proponents of petroleum plunder and pipeline proliferation have little use for Sioux-style protection, when their huge machines open the earth and tunnel under waterways. Some of us call this "destruction," since hundreds of pipeline accidents occur annually, and spills on land, in waterways and in the ocean justify our fears of poor oil and gas industry integrity and demonstrate human error and carelessness.

Certainly we Arkies had a huge dose of oil ooze in 2013, when the 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline ruptured under a Mayflower neighborhood forcing a belated evacuation of 22 homes and oil contamination in Lake Conway. Exxon estimated damages at $57 million. Only after this spill did many Arkansawyers learn that this elderly crude pipeline runs under a long stretch of our state as well as under Lake Maumelle, Little Rock's major water supply. Maps show it is part of thousands of miles of pipe snaking in every conceivable direction across this country. Any and all pipelines are subject to leaks, but to really question human sanity in regard to risk, add fracking and drilling hazards into the recipe for earthquakes, toxic wastewater and climate-changing methane pollution.

If the oil and gas industry had a squeaky clean track record in their operations and exhibited empathy for what those in their path stand to lose, things would likely go much more smoothly. On Labor Day weekend, however, pepper spray and attack dogs were used against Dakota protectors by one of the pipeline's security companies. Also, bulldozers plowed into burial grounds less than 24 hours after the Sioux tribe had "filed a court document detailing the 27 graves, 16 stone rings, 19 effigies, and other artifacts found there." Phil McKenna's "Inside Climate Action" article added, " By Sunday, all those sites had been destroyed or harmed." This was not only a vicious, cruel and stupid act, but should be prosecuted as a crime.

The Sioux have been joined by hundreds of Native Americans from at least 280 tribes in their effort to protect this land and the Missouri River next to their reservation. On the other hand, oil companies seem to be guided by a modern-day form of manifest destiny, granted the power of eminent domain to push their private gain from coast to coast and around the globe and to hell with whomever or whatever is in their way.

Arguing for the prevention of anticipated danger from pipelines is a hard case to take to a court no matter how obvious the impending peril might be. The Dakota Access pipeline, designed to carry up to 500,000 gallons of crude oil a day over 1,100 plus miles from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota, through South Dakota, Iowa and half way into Illinois, is proposed to be buried under the Missouri River only a half mile upstream from where the tribe gets its drinking and irrigation water. That puts the reservation one spill away from devastation. Interestingly, the route was changed from running close to the capital city of Bismarck, for numerous reasons including being too close to the city's water supply.

The siting of environmentally dangerous projects and industries exemplifies environmental injustice. About 41 percent of Standing Rock's population lives below the poverty line, making them a textbook example of impacting those least able to fight back. No doubt the pipeline company did not count on the largest gathering of Native Americans since Little Bighorn, riding around on their "spirit horses, united and determined to spend the winter in tepees to protect the water if that's what is necessary.

Last week a Fayetteville "protect" was held in front of the Federal Building at Mountain Street and College Avenue to raise awareness of the Dakota pipeline. Those tribes need funds and supplies. You can help at

Next we will need to focus on Valero's Diamond Pipeline, approved to cross Arkansas from Fort Smith to Memphis and cross five major waterways.

Dust off your tomahawks.

Commentary on 09/20/2016

Print Headline: Protection on the War Path

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