Tuesday, dozens of demonstrators gathered at the Tim Cole statue on 19th and University Ave. to protest a pipeline over a thousand miles away. These Lubbock protesters were joining in a national effort to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The pipeline, which is currently under construction, would transfer crude oil through several states. Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company constructing the pipeline, asked the Army Corps of Engineers for permission to build a tunnel underneath the Missouri River in North Dakota.
But the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has fought back, saying that the construction would not only threaten their water supply, but also sacred cultural sites. The Sioux and other demonstrators from around the country have been protesting the pipeline for months.
“The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property,” the government agencies involved said in a statement.
“It’s a good first step, halting is definitely progress, but it doesn’t mean that it’s stopped. So we need to continue the fight,” said Sara Smith, a Texas Tech student demonstrating Tuesday.
Smith said she is descended from a Mexican tribe, she has followed the pipeline protests and tries to keep her family and friends informed.
“I’ve been battling racism my whole life,” she said. “I can’t be in Dakota, I really wish I could, but from Lubbock, Texas, I’m saying no DAPL.”
“I just hope also that people recognize there is more to learn about,” said Leann Lamb-Vines, one of the organizers of the Lubbock protest. Lamb-Vines said she was personally inspired by the nonviolent perseverance of the protestors at Standing Rock. After hearing about the national protest effort planned for Tuesday, she coordinated the effort in Lubbock so that West Texans could show their support for Standing Rock.
Alex Pearl, Associate Professor of Law and the Director of the Center of Water Law and Policy at Texas Tech, has been following the pipeline protests as well. The pipeline debate is very significant to him personally, he is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation and several years ago worked as an attorney in Washington, D.C. exclusively representing tribe members and tribal communities against state and federal government.
“I think [the legal questions at Standing Rock] fall into two primary camps,” Pearl said. “One is environmental law that applies to tribal communities in the same way that it applies to individual cities towns in other places in the United States. The other camp of laws that are relevant here concern the rights that the Standing Rock community has as a sovereign nation–which Indian tribes are in the United States– they have both significant religious and cultural interests not only in the lake nearby that is involved with the pipeline but also the property surrounding the lake.”
Pearl said that the Standing Rock tribe’s status as a sovereign nation, as well as previously existing treaties both factor into the legal issues in the battle over the pipeline. He added that a leakage in a pipeline built under the tribe’s water sources could damage the daily lives of the people living on the reservation.
“Legally speaking it’s complicated, but the tribe is currently pursuing actions in federal court to obtain injunctions to prevent the pipeline’s construction from continuing on,” Pearl explained.
Beyond the legal issues at play, Pearl said that the native people at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are deeply connected to the land they live on in ways that non-indigenous people don’t always understand
“For Standing Rock this isn’t dirt, this isn’t just blades of grass in the ground, this is Jerusalem for them, this is their church, this is where their family was born,” he explained.
Pearl said that while many things are unclear about the future legal disputes over this pipeline, it is histoically significant that the Amy Corps of Engineers opted to halt the construction.
“I think that speaks to the media attention that has been brought to this issue and to the level of concern that this pipeline’s location has for that tribal community and the fact that the federal government has acknowledged those concerns, in a very real way,” he said.
“So often the federal government has come and said to tribes, ‘Here’s how we’re going to fix your problem,’ rather than listening to tribes tell them what the solutions are. Tribes have long had difficulty getting the federal government to listen. And this action by the Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior indicates that they are listening ” Pearl said. “That’s meaningful.”
There may still be pushback agains this construction halt, already Energy Transfer Partners is seeking permission to continue work on the pipeline.
That is why demonstrators in Lubbock said they hope their presence encourages more people in West Texas to learn about what is going on at Standing Rock.
“When you turn on the media you see Trump or Hilary or Obama, and this is not getting the news coverage it deserves,” Smith said as she and her fellow demonstrators waved at drivers passing by in Lubbock.