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Ashlanders stand with Standing Rock

The Ashland Plaza filled with the sounds of protesters Thursday in support of the thousands gathered at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

“Most appropriate way I could think of to spend Thanksgiving — standing up for Standing Rock,” said participant Shirley Anderson. 

The protesters at Standing Rock represent Native American tribes as well as numerous other groups who are trying to stop an oil pipeline from being constructed through North Dakota. The tribal leaders claim the pipeline endangers water, the environment, tribal land and sacred burial grounds. 

If built as planned, the Dakota Access Pipeline will go through the headwaters of the Missouri River, a source of fresh water for millions of people who live downstream, including Native Americans. It’s supposed to pass under that river just a few miles from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles North and South Dakota. Protesters worry the pipeline will leak into that watershed and the contamination could prove catastrophic. 

The Army Corps of Engineers initially approved the plan and Energy Transfer Partners has continued to claim that there is no such risk of a leak. Tribal leaders say they were not consulted in the planning stages, even though the project was to pass directly through their lands. 

Tribes began descending upon the area over the summer to stop the pipeline and have been joined by non tribal members as the protests continue to grow even months later. Protesters have been shot with rubber bullets and sprayed with tear gas and water in clashes with police.

The Army Corps of Engineers delayed construction work last week to hold further discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. 

But the companies behind the pipeline have asked a federal court to allow them to complete the work. Protesters claim the oil company continues to set up drilling operations. 

“These people are isolated. They don’t know what’s going on,” said Dan Wahpepah, who spoke to the Ashland protesters. Wahpepah said it gives Standing Rock protesters strength when they see that communities like Ashland are supporting them. 

“This is a spiritual movement. We care about green technology, clean water, the growing police militarization,” Wahpepah said.

He called upon the people attending the protest in Ashland to do all they can to support an end to polluting technologies and practices, calling the Dakota Pipeline project “the beginning of a catastrophic action.” 

He also told the crowd the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline is having unintended positive consequences in that it is bringing Native Americans and non-natives together. “This is not an Ashland thing. This is a global thing,” he said. 

Reach Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com.

Ari Frites performs during a protest in support of Standing Rock on the Ashland Plaza Thanksgiving Day. Photo by Julie Akins