North Dakota Pipeline: The Black Snake has Been Wounded

By Perle R Desir, Opinion Writer

On Sunday, December 4, 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced to Standing Rock’s Water Protectors that the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would not be granted. Celebrations erupted across the country and in many places around the world.

This victory is rather significant. It is a manifestation of the power of unity, perseverance, and solidarity. It is the result of eight months of collective action, prayer vigils, escalating police brutality, and political neglect. It is also the largest Native mobilization thus so far, against what’s commonly referred to as the legendary “black snake”; an allusion to the Lakota prophecy of a great snake that will bring destruction to the people and to the Earth.

Sunoco Logistics’ proposed Dakota Access Pipeline embodies the black snake metaphor. It was originally projected to cross the Missouri River upstream of Bismarck but later relocated to just upstream of the Standing Rock Reservation. The pipeline, which Energy Transfer Partners reports is to carry 450,000 barrels of fracked crude oil per day, threatened the water safety of indigenous tribes and others all along the Missouri River. It would also result in a tremendous desecration of Standing Rock Sioux Tribal’ s sacred burial grounds. Though triumphant, the concession is also in many ways misleading.

Challenges remain, as it is worth noting that the Obama administration failed to take any concrete action to stop the pipeline, but will merely be “exploring different pathways”. Based on the careful wording of the Obama administration’s confession, in conjunction with the recent bold statement made by Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics, it is fair to say that the battle isn’t over.

Indeed, Sunoco Logistics’ declarations that “the corporations remain fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe”, makes it clear that they will not give up the venture anytime soon.

A great threat to the current easement comes from our President-Elect Donald Trump, who throughout his campaign in Bismarck spoke in support of the extraction projects and pipelines such as DAPL. Once in power, there is ground to believe that he may soon reverse the current verdict. Furthermore, environmental concerns will undeniably solidify under the president-elect, who has several times denied the existence of any environmental threat to fossil fuel or of any acceleration of our climate change crisis.

Indian tribe worries are especially well-founded. As reported by the dailykos, the US government’s has a well-documented history of signing more than 500 treaties with Indigenous tribes, all of which were either broken, nullified or amended.

And so, in the midst of chanting “mni wichoni” (Water Is Life), in the midst of celebrating how successful our veterans were at protecting us here at home, in the midst of celebrating the gathering of so many Native Americans tribes in one place with one common goal, we should keep in mind that the movement is just getting started. Many still believe in the profitability of the pipeline and are ready to continue opposing the tribes.

This victory, thus, shouldn’t make us complacent. We simply cannot allow this story to dissolve.

It took the unified voices of thousands who refused to be silent and compromise to make the world pay attention, and it will take just that much if not more to ensure that this projected venture is shut down entirely. This is a victory for the people whose combined strength and stubborn persistence made the world pay attention. While this victory is a step in the right direction, it is important to remember that voices are still needed, money is still needed, and concern for the Earth and our human legacy is still very much needed.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, December 10th print edition.

Contact Perle at

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