A group of 50+ protestors stand on a mound of dirt holding flags, their fists in the air.

New pipeline will keep us dependent on an industry that harms women

Last month, despite pressure from landowners, celebrities, 174,000 petition signers and a group of Native American youth who ran across the country in protest, the Army Corps of Engineers granted a construction permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline. But opponents are not backing down in their fight to stop the project and prevent any further commitment to an industry that fosters violence against indigenous women and threatens the health of marginalized women across the country. 

If built, the Dakota Access Pipeline will cross the Missouri River just a mile away from the Standing Rock Reservation, threatening to leak into the tribe’s drinking water. Local activists point out from experience that it’s not a matter of if the pipeline leaks, but when: from 2012-2013 alone, there were 300 pipeline breaks in the state of North Dakota.

A 13-year-old girl stands in front of an urban backdrop. She is holding a staff and wrapped in the flag of her people.

Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer started the petition with the Oceti Sakowin youth to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo credit: Kettie Jean

In response, a group of 30 young people from Standing Rock launched an online campaign and organized a relay run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to deliver their petition signatures to the Army Corps. In D.C., they were joined by actresses Riley Keough, Shailene Woodley and over 150 people who protested outside of the White House in the rain for hours. Juliana and I joined them and it was without a doubt, the most powerful action I’ve seen in a very long time. These are young people—literally two year olds, and twelve year olds, and teens and unsurprisingly, mostly women—who have had enough with the shit thrown at them and are pouring all of their time and energy and resources to organize, stand up and fight back. Now the runners are back on the reservation to observe and block construction of the pipeline. So far, almost 20 people have been arrested and participants say that they will be camping out until the pipeline is stopped altogether.

But more than this one pipeline, the movement to stop the Dakota Access is demanding that we stand up to a practice of resource extraction that treats women and marginalized people like collateral damage on the race to get oil and gas out of the ground. One need only learn about the sharp increase in sexual assaults Native American women experienced when the Bakken oil patch was discovered in the early 2000’s to understand. We’ve covered in previous articles the massive groups of unattached oil workers known as “man camps” and the impunity with which they attack Native women living in the area.

Zaysha Grinnel grew up near the camps, and felt compelled to protest the pipeline because of the affects the camps have had on her community. “Before the oil industry came into our lives, I used to feel comfortable running across the bridge on the lake or walking around town at night. Nowadays it’s not safe. [...] We feel unsafe in our own home town.”

Even if the problem of unattached oil workers and a socialized history of violence against Native women could be solved, this pipeline still locks us into a path to destroy our planet and reduce resources for the most marginalized. If built, the Dakota Access Pipeline will carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken oil patch to Illinois, where it will join with other pipelines to transport the oil to markets on the East Coast. This fossil fuel extraction disproportionately impacts people of color and particularly women who often live on the front lines of climate change – from oil drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon, to oil refineries in majority African-American communities in California, to violence caused by scarce resources and climate disasters on the coast of Honduras.

The fight to stop the Dakota Access may seem impossible, but young people already won one like it before. This pipeline is set to be only 7 miles shorter than the Keystone XL, which seemed equally unstoppable but was ultimately vetoed by President Obama after years of struggle.

We can build upon the success of the movement against the Keystone to stop the Dakota Access – in fact we have to. Too many indigenous and otherwise marginalized women have never had a choice in this struggle when their lives and communities were on the line. We owe it to each other to fight alongside those communities and those young people who are leading the struggle to protect our home on planet earth.

Photo credit: Lucas Majno via Facebook

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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