An Indigenous Organizer at Standing Rock Speaks on Police Repression, Climate Chaos and Donald Trump

The water protectors at Standing Rock are still defiant in opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Dayton Martindale

Kandi Mossett says the fight at Standing Rock isn't over yet. (Photo by Emily Arasim via Ecowatch)

The $3.8 bil­lion Dako­ta Access Pipeline (DAPL), if com­plet­ed, would car­ry up to 570,000 bar­rels of crude oil dai­ly from the Dako­tas to refiner­ies in Illi­nois. Along the way it would cross the Mis­souri Riv­er, the main source of drink­ing water and irri­ga­tion for 8,200 res­i­dents of the Stand­ing Rock reser­va­tion. Those facts have turned DAPL into a flash­point in dual strug­gles for cli­mate jus­tice and Native rights. In April, demon­stra­tors led by the Stand­ing Rock Sioux launched an encamp­ment at the site of the pro­posed pipeline, which the tribe also says cross­es over land that — accord­ing to the terms of an 1868 treaty — should still belong to them. They’ve been con­front­ed with mul­ti­ple rounds of police repres­sion, most recent­ly the night of Novem­ber 20, when, Democ­ra­cy Now reports, more than 100 Native Amer­i­cans and allies … have been injured by police, who attacked them with rub­ber bul­lets, tear gas, mace can­is­ters and water can­nons in freez­ing temperatures.”

It shows how strong we are as a nation because we’re still here and still fighting.

Kan­di Mos­sett is one of hun­dreds of water pro­tec­tors” who have gath­ered at Stand­ing Rock in recent months. As an orga­niz­er with the Indige­nous Envi­ron­men­tal Net­work (IEN), she has spent near­ly a decade work­ing toward a just tran­si­tion” from fos­sil fuels — for exam­ple, by help­ing indige­nous youth find green jobs. Since arriv­ing at Stand­ing Rock on August 15, she’s helped with media out­reach, logsitics and imple­ment­ing sus­tain­abil­i­ty pro­grams in the community.

A mem­ber of the Man­dan, Hidat­sa and Arikara Nation, Mos­sett grew up on the Fort Berthold reser­va­tion in North Dako­ta. While in col­lege at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Dako­ta, she got her first real taste of activism when she and fel­low Native stu­dents pres­sured the insti­tu­tion to replace its mas­cot, the Fight­ing Sioux.” After years of work­ing in state and nation­al parks, she became con­cerned that those parts of the plan­et not set aside as parks were get­ting destroyed. She shift­ed her efforts to fight­ing against frack­ing, the Key­stone XL pipeline and, most recent­ly, DAPL. Mos­sett spoke to In These Times from Stand­ing Rock, as she and oth­er orga­niz­ers dealt with the after­math of mass arrests and a dis­turb­ing election.

Don­ald Trump has been elect­ed pres­i­dent. How does this affect your struggle?

I’m try­ing to remain pos­i­tive. But he is a known cli­mate denier. I’m hop­ing we can use this as a wake-up call for every­body in this coun­try to come togeth­er. And we’re hop­ing that what­ev­er Oba­ma can do before Jan­u­ary 20, he will do. What has he got to lose?

[Edi­tors’ note: When this issue went to press on Novem­ber 12, Oba­ma had tak­en no new action on the pipeline since the elec­tion; last week the Army Corps of Engi­neers released a state­ment say­ing that addi­tion­al dis­cus­sion and analy­sis” are nec­es­sary before it approves the planned route.]

Would re-rout­ing the pipeline, as Oba­ma has sug­gest­ed the gov­ern­ment might do, solve the problem?

It’s not about NIM­BY (Not In My Back­yard); that’s why we aren’t say­ing reroute it. We don’t want it to poi­son some­body else.

We are demand­ing a full Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment (EIS), which was nev­er done. Com­pa­nies some­how got away with get­ting per­mits typ­i­cal­ly used for small-scale projects, like boat ramps and bike trails, by tak­ing this over-1100-mile long pipeline and break­ing it down into lit­tle tee­ny sec­tions. Each sec­tion was looked at as an indi­vid­ual project, not part of a whole. They knew if they had to do a full EIS the pipeline would nev­er hap­pen, because so many cul­tur­al sites and endan­gered species would be affected.

Were you expect­ing Stand­ing Rock to grow as it has?

I had no expec­ta­tions. LaDon­na Allard of the Stand­ing Rock Sioux tribe was the landown­er liv­ing clos­est to where DAPL was going to be built. She found out about it in 2014, and she said, No, we can’t have this.” She real­ized where they were try­ing to go through: her son’s grave is out there on a hill.

LaDon­na met with mem­bers of IEN, and they said, let’s go build a camp against DAPL.” In April, peo­ple came to put up tents and teepees. Some­times there was only a hand­ful, five or six; some­times it would swell to 30 people.

In August, we found out with less than 48-hour notice that they were going to start dig­ging near Stand­ing Rock. LaDon­na put out a call and said, I don’t know if any­one is going to see this, but if you do see this come and help us.”

Over the course of the two next days, there were 200 peo­ple there.

There have been hun­dreds of arrests at Stand­ing Rock. How have these crack­downs affect­ed the movement?

With­in two days of the first arrests [in August], 700 more peo­ple showed up, and then around 1,200 more. We had to form a new camp.

The camps grew, we con­tin­ued to pray each time we did direct action and we were con­tin­u­al­ly met with vio­lence. Fast-for­ward to Octo­ber 27 [when police arrest­ed more than 140 peo­ple]. It real­ly felt like we were in a war zone. Peo­ple were injured, shot at close-range with rub­ber bul­lets. One of the police took a pipe from one man and broke it in half — you don’t do that with a sacred object.

We were just pray­ing. The police kept telling us to move, but we wouldn’t. I told them my grand­fa­ther was a World War II vet. He didn’t fight and get two Pur­ple Hearts for this to hap­pen to his tribe. It was a real­ly sur­re­al moment.

Now we’re deal­ing with post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der. We nev­er thought that, in 2016, we would still be attacked as Native Americans.

But it shouldn’t sur­prise us. Reser­va­tions used to be pris­ons. They couldn’t decide what to do with us — What are we going to do about the Indi­an prob­lem?” That’s what this whole fight is about now: send­ing out cops from oth­er states to deal with the Indi­an prob­lem. It shows how strong we are as a nation because we’re still here and still fighting.

Some have crit­i­cized non-Native envi­ron­men­tal­ists for fram­ing Stand­ing Rock pri­mar­i­ly as a fight against cli­mate change, as opposed to a strug­gle for indige­nous land rights.

There’s no ten­sion there because it’s all con­nect­ed. Stud­ies show that this pipeline would increase car­bon emis­sions the equiv­a­lent of 29.5 coal plants per year, or 21.4 mil­lion new cars on the road. If this coun­try were seri­ous about reduc­ing emis­sions, it would not allow this pipeline to be built.

Cli­mate chaos exists. It’s human-pro­duced. It also stems from cap­i­tal­ism and col­o­niza­tion. The pipeline has already been rerout­ed once, [to avoid] the most­ly white pop­u­la­tion of Bis­mar­ck. So it was rerout­ed to north of Stand­ing Rock Sioux tribe. Right off the bat, it’s an envi­ron­men­tal racism issue.

Peo­ple are start­ing to wake up and real­ize that. We’re not going to turn away our allies for final­ly wak­ing up, because we’re hop­ing to show every­body that there are alter­na­tives to oil. There are no alter­na­tives to clean water.

In Sep­tem­ber, the AFL-CIO put out a state­ment back­ing the Dako­ta Access pipeline and the fam­i­ly sup­port­ing jobs” it would pro­vide. How do we move beyond jobs vs. the environment?

We’re not against the work­ers. Some of the larg­er unions like the AFL-CIO came out against us, but then oth­ers in sup­port of us. Their slo­gan became There are no jobs on a dead plan­et.” And I was like, Yes!”

We need to look at how we’re going to ful­ly phase out the extrac­tion projects we already have and clean them up, while at the same time hav­ing jobs and infra­struc­ture for all of those work­ers just try­ing to feed their families.

If we switch to renew­ables, we could have far more green jobs than there are total jobs in the fos­sil fuel indus­try — and the coun­try isn’t doing it. Why? It’s crazy, how human nature fears change. We are try­ing lit­er­al­ly to save us from our­selves. And fos­sil fuel resources are finite any­way — it’s like we’re play­ing a game of Russ­ian roulette to see what’s going to last longer: fos­sil fuels, or humans?

How can peo­ple who aren’t able to trav­el to Stand­ing Rock sup­port the movement?

Our call-out for allies is to put pres­sure on the Army Corps of Engi­neers (ACE). Allies need to tell the ACE not to issue the per­mit for pipeline builders to bore under the Mis­souri Riv­er. Inci­den­tal­ly, the ACE is under­neath the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion. He could step in, but so far there’s been most­ly silence.

We’ve also been call­ing for allies across the coun­try to tar­get the banks and any of the peo­ple financ­ing DAPL. If peo­ple do want to donate but can’t come to North Dako­ta, you can go to Indige​nous​Ris​ing​.org. We will con­tin­ue to be at the camp. 

Day­ton Mar­tin­dale is a free­lance writer and for­mer asso­ciate edi­tor at In These Times. His work has also appeared in Boston Review, Earth Island Jour­nal, Har­bin­ger and The Next Sys­tem Project. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @DaytonRMartind.

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