FORT YATES, N.D., Aug. 28 (UPI) — Native Americans from reservations across the United States joined the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest against a 1,100-mile, $3.8 billion four-state oil pipeline.
Opponents of the pipeline say it could disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for 8,000 tribal members and millions further downstream. The protest began Aug. 10 when ground was broken near the reservation.
Fifteen people from the Kialegee Tribal Town in Oklahoma are taking supplies to the protesters.
“We just want to be there to support their tribe,” protester Agnes Givens told NewsOne6 in Tulsa, Okla.
Food and water was collected for those sleeping in tents and teepees.
Protesters and supporters are concerned if the pipeline were to leak, it could contaminate their drinking water and force people to move from their land.
“If the pipe busts, it will contaminate the whole river,” said protester Jeremiah Hobia of Oklahoma. “And a lot of that is drinking water, and to a lot of Native Americans water is sacred to us. It keeps us alive.”
Amnesty International representatives have arrived to monitor the response of law enforcement to the protesters.
And entertainers are supporting the cause. Shailene Woodley, star of the movie series Divergent, has spent weeks with the protesters. Movie star Susan Sarandon attended a rally in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday outside U.S. District Court.
The Dakota Access oil pipeline could carry more than 400,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Bakken region of western North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa, and connect with an existing pipeline in Illinois.
At its peak, it would transport about half of the oil that North Dakota produces per day.
The pipeline is nearly 50 percent completed, but construction on a section beneath the Missouri River, just north of the reservation, has been halted under orders from Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. He said protesters were creating safety issues.
Kirchmeier told KFYR his personnel are on hand to preserve order.
Judge James A. Boasberg, of the U.S. District Court, will rule before Sept. 9 on whether construction can be halted on the Dakota Access pipeline.
Protesters have vowed to stay at least until Boasberg rules.
“Every time there’s a project of this magnitude, so the nation can benefit, there’s a cost,” Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, who was among those arrested, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “That cost is born by tribal nations.”
On Thursday, nearly three dozen environmental groups wrote to President Barack Obama, who visited the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in 2014 with Michelle Obama.
“If there were to be a spill, which history has taught us is not a question of if but when, it would constitute an existential threat to the tribe’s culture and way of life,” the letter stated.
On Aug. 19, the governor declared a state of emergency there, but didn’t call up the National Guard.
“The State of North Dakota remains committed to protecting citizens’ rights to lawfully assemble and protest, but the unfortunate fact remains that unlawful acts associated with the protest near Cannon Ball have led to serious public safety concerns and property damage,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said. “This emergency declaration simply allows us to bring greater resources to bear if needed to help local officials address any further public safety concerns.”
The North Dakota Department of Transportation has restricted southbound travel on ND Highway 1806, about 6 miles south of Mandan, to local traffic and emergency response vehicles only.
On Aug. 16, a federal judge issued a restraining order against new protesters interfering with construction of the pipeline. The order doesn’t apply to peaceful protesting or assembly.
Lawyers from Earthjustice, who are representing the Standing Rock Sioux, claim that the Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Historic Preservation Act when it approved the project.
The project is slightly shorter than the proposed 1,179-mile Keystone XL project, which Obama has rejected. But because Keystone crossed an international border, it required a stricter environmental review and presidential approval.
Dakota Access’ developers needed approval under a different process. Tribal leaders say they didn’t get a chance to provide their input.
Federal officials and Dakota Access developers said Standing Rock had a chance to survey the pipeline’s route, but the tribe declined.
“The Corps followed procedure in this case when it actively worked to engage with the plaintiffs, the Standing Rock Sioux,” federal lawyer Matthew Marinelli told Judge Boasberg last week.
North Dakota Petroleum Council spokeswoman Tessa Sandstrom told The Hill the project is important economically for the state.
“People in North Dakota have been asking for infrastructure, and we’ve finally got a project that can help with a lot of that,” she said.