The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is on a quest for environmental justice and spiritual freedom. A minor miracle in Santa Barbara is helping the tribe get there, in the form of a City Council resolution, which is now part of a wave of global support pouring into North Dakota.
For people not following the Dakota Access Pipeline project, a months-long showdown is taking place just outside of the Standing Rock Reservation, which spans North and South Dakota, where self-identified “water protectors” are literally holding their ground against construction crews building a 1,100-mile pipeline that would pass over sensitive landscapes including treaty-protected land containing recognized cultural resources.
A rupture in the pipeline, located near or under 209 rivers or tributaries of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, would pour fracked oil into the drinking water supply of the local Sioux and if carried downstream contaminate the water of millions of people in the Midwest.
The water protectors have another huge concern — protecting sacred burial grounds and other archeological treasures that would be destroyed as the pipeline is constructed. (Indeed, sacred sites have already been bulldozed.) A “fast-tracked” permit approval by the Army Corps of Engineers set the stage between Energy Transfer Partners and the pipeline resistance led by the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires), Great Sioux Nation.
On Tuesday, November 1, the Santa Barbara City Council passed a resolution calling for a halt to the construction so that a full environmental impact statement could be completed and tribal consultation concluded to the satisfaction of the affected tribes.
Chumash community members and Chumash bands from Santa Barbara County brought the resolution forward, the first time in many years Santa Barbara’s First Peoples have approached City Hall regarding a matter of grave importance to them — nothing less than indigenous rights to land, religion, and culture.
The protector camps of prayer have been in place since April, with Native Americans from all over the continent traveling to the center of this issue over tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and the inevitable transition away from fossil fuel energy. Also taking a stand are students, people of faith, environmentalists, and people touched by a situation echoing historic abuses and assaults. Willing to sacrifice their personal safety and comfort, they are coming from all parts of the world.
Why is Standing Rock drawing so much attention and sympathy? Because it is a mirror held up to our society, reflecting what we all know to be true — American Indians have endured inhumane treatment and are incredibly resilient. They deserve better. Justice demands our government honor treaties and acknowledge a history of state-sponsored atrocities. And the Oceti Sakowin and water protectors are right — water is life.
The truth that Water Is Life is just as fundamental in Santa Barbara. The issues of water here on the South Coast are complex — in terms of politics and Nature herself. Water use and water rights, decided by governments past, must look forward to meet the needs of upcoming generations. Governmental bodies must also consider oil production and its accompanying pipeline failures, which have already wreaked environmental destruction on Santa Barbara County, on land and ocean.
Standing Rock is also reflecting a painful question. Will we allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to be yet another installment of broken treaties and the genocide of indigenous people? The response from the water protectors is, “no.” The massive infrastructure of an antiquated fuel source must not wipe out the Dakota and Lakota Peoples. Their water, their history, their lives must be protected. Just like ours.