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Water Protectors Continue to Resist DAPL: Peaceful Protests Turn to Legal Action, Direct Action and Divestment

Photo: Joe Brusky (flickr)

Photo: Just Brusky (flickr)

by Sarah Nixon

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a new legal challenge to the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, on Feb. 13, requesting that a federal judge block the easement granted by President Trump through executive order on Feb. 8. This last-ditch legal effort comes after a failed attempt to acquire a restraining order against Energy Transfer Partners, the company responsible for the pipeline construction. The restraining order was filed for immediately after President Trump granted the easement, but was denied soon after, on Feb. 13, spurring the filing of a new legal challenge.

Drilling to lay the final 1.5-mile leg of DAPL under Lake Oahe, however, has already begun. Spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners Vicki Granado confirmed in an email last week that the company “expect[s] to be completed in 60 days with another 23 days to fill the line to Patoka,” where Bakken crude oil from North Dakota will be refined for sale. This final leg of the pipeline is being laid less than a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, beneath the Lake Oahe portion of the Missouri River where the Sacred Stone camp has stood since Spring 2016.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, a prominent Indigenous activist from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, told the Leveller in a Feb. 18 interview that DAPL’s construction “is a classical case of environmental racism in the heartland of the United States, and everyone should be concerned about it.” Thomas-Muller also noted that the pipeline is “a piece of infrastructure that will hardwire our economy into the dirty energy economy” and push us “far past the Paris Accord’s 2050 goals,” referring to the Paris Climate Agreement goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions globally by 2050.

Meanwhile, officials with Energy Transfer Partners have attempted to discredit water protectors resisting the pipeline by characterizing them as “terrorists.” Executive Vice President Joey Mahmoud wrote of activists who shut off a handful of pipeline pumping stations in October, that “had these actions been undertaken by foreign nationals, they could only be described as acts of terrorism” in a testimony to congress on Feb. 15.

Yet, in regard to violent acts surrounding the pipeline’s construction, Chase Iron Eyes noted on Democracy Now, Feb. 8, that the record of the Morton County Police during the months-long resistance to DAPL “includes the brutalizations of a young woman named Sophia Wilansky. It includes the loss of eyesight of another young lady. It includes the permanent maiming by at-close-range deployment of less lethal bullets. It includes dog attacks. It includes water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, the negligent or intentional risking of human lives. It includes the lying — the Morton County law enforcement agencies lying about the criminal conduct.” In total, the Morton County police have made over 700 arrests in relation to pipeline protests, which Iron Eyes described as a peaceful, prayerful, nonviolent exercise of our human, treaty, constitutional and civil rights.”

Thomas-Muller warns that “it’s important to understand that this issue of Standing Rock is tied to so many other issues that are being disrespected and disregarded and agitated by the Trump administration policies,” and observed that “the circumstances are eerily similar to the geopolitics pre-World War Two Germany.” He went on to say that these geopolitics have “serious ramifications for our entire economy, our country, our security, and certainly that is magnified on vulnerable populations through Canada like Indigenous Peoples.”

Water protectors are continuing to fight against DAPL, calling for mass mobilizations worldwide. An All Nations March on Washington will take place on March 10. This will be to demand respect for Indigenous rights and climate justice, while “standing in solidarity against the tyranny of the Trump administration,” according to Thomas-Muller. Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dave Archambault also vowed in a recent letter that “[i]f DAPL is successful in constructing and operating the pipeline, the Tribe will seek to shut the pipeline operations down.”

In addition to rallies and direct action, other forms of resistance are also being pursued. The Seattle City Council voted unanimously to divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo on Feb. 7, as a means of retaliating against the bank’s role in funding DAPL. The City Council made the move by passing a Socially Responsible Banking bill, which stated that the city would not renew its contract with Wells Fargo when it expires in 2018, and enshrined other social justice principles for the city’s future investments and banking relationships as well.

Resistance to DAPL may spill over into opposition against the renewed Keystone XL pipeline project, after President Trump ordered its construction on Feb. 8. The pipeline, thought by many to be dead after Obama rejected it in late 2015 on the grounds that it would contribute to climate change, would carry Alberta tar sands oil south across the border to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect to other major pipelines. Prime Minister Trudeau has repeatedly expressed his support for the project. On Democracy Now, Feb. 14, Thomas-Muller explained that “the Trudeau government has prepared itself for a Standing Rock level of resistance.”

This article first appeared in Vol. 9, No. 5 (February/March 2017).

More than a Symbol: Councillor Catherine McKenney pushes to make Ottawa a sanctuary city

Photo: Andy Crosby

Photo: Andy Crosby

by Ash Abraham Coutu

Like the raised fist of the resistance or the olive branch of the peace movement, symbols are only as powerful as the voices who drive them. One of those voices is Somerset Ward Councilor Catherine McKenney, who will be presenting a motion to make Ottawa a sanctuary city in late February.

“Symbolically[,] we have always been a generous and open community,” McKenney told the Leveller. “This motion says, we continue to be.”

In response to the anxiety induced by President Trump’s recent immigration ban, hundreds gathered in front of the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa on Feb. 4 to demonstrate solidarity with with refugees, Muslims, and immigrants. The crowd left Mayor Jim Watson a voicemail message chanting, “We want Ottawa to be a Sanctuary City.” The large crowd then marched to the U.S. embassy chanting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” and “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.”


Other cities across Canada, such as Montreal, Peterborough and Regina, are also pushing for sanctuary city policies, where residents without legal status can access essential services without fear of prosecution. McKenney says, “We see what is happening in the world. People are frightened. This is an opportunity for us to take care of each other.”

Councillor McKenney’s motion will be more than a symbol. It will guarantee all non-status residents equal access to city-funded services. Frontline service providers will be instructed to not ask for residents’ immigration statuses. McKenney says, “These residents work, contribute, pay property tax and pay sales tax. They have every right to the services without fear of us turning them over to immigration. This isn’t necessarily providing anything extra. It’s just saying, we’re not going to do immigration’s job for them.”

A pilot study on sanctuary city policies in Toronto found that “the human rights implications of living without status are profound.” The study, conducted by the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement in February 2017, states, “The degradation of mental and physical health is a primary concern, which is attributable in large part to fear of detection and deportation, social isolation, poor working and living conditions, vulnerability to abuse and exploitation, and a host of institutional barriers.” Undocumented residents may also choose to not vaccinate their children or phone the police for fear of potential deportation.

Toronto declared itself a sanctuary city in February 2013 and implemented “Access without Fear” policies that ensured all residents opportunities to access city-funded services.

Aditya Rao, who is involved with the Sanctuary City Ottawa campaign, believes Ottawa should look to cities like Toronto for guidance. Rao told the Leveller that, “There’s no reason for cities to be assisting the federal government in rounding up individuals. Cities should be building welcoming and safe communities for everyone regardless of their status.”

Rao cites the story of an undocumented woman who was detained in Vancouver after attempting to flee domestic violence: “She didn’t have bus fare, and the bus driver called CBSA.” Rao continued, “She was put into detention and chose to hang herself, rather than going back to the situation she was in.” Rao points out that this example is extreme but is also the kind of situation sanctuary cities could prevent.

Rao further commented that Sanctuary City Ottawa is not calling for merely a symbolic gesture. “That could be dangerous for migrants who come expecting safety, and are handed over to CBSA. It is putting their lives at risk. Catherine McKenney agrees, and that’s why we are hoping this motion will pass.”

McKenney says, “It’s important to always be moving forward together. But at the same time, people live in real fear. If you’ve never been a victim of discrimination, then it might be difficult to understand what that’s like on a day to day basis. We have to support each other.”

Counsellor McKenney is set to present her motion on Feb. 22, 2017.

This article first appeared in Vol. 9, No. 5 (February/March 2017).

KANATA 150? Exhibit Explores Counter-Narratives of Colonization

Ming Wu

Photo: Ming Wu

by Gowlene Selvavijayan

With Canada’s 150th celebrations underway, one Ottawa exhibit featuring seven Indigenous artists reminded Canadians of certain colonial realities. These realities extend far beyond Canadian Confederation’s 150-year history. They go hand-in-hand with the history our sesquicentennial celebrations do so little to acknowledge.

The KANATA 150? exhibit, a nod to the origin of the country’s name, was on display at Studio Sixty Six in the Glebe from January 12 to February 18. The exhibit explored a counter-narrative of Canadian Confederation by giving Indigenous artists a platform to reflect upon the festivities.

As Rose Ekins, gallery manager and curator at the emerging artist’s studio, mentioned on the Studio Sixty Six website, “Canada is a country built from settler colonialism, which leaves the question of how the Indigenous peoples of this land are meant to participate in these celebrations.”  This question inspired Ekins to organize the group show and reach out to emerging Indigenous artists of various backgrounds to share their thoughts on the celebrations.

“From what I can see, a lot of the events and celebrations do not include the entire history of Canada,” Ekins told the Leveller.

Ekins felt that the celebrations were simplistic — especially when colonization of the land began long before 1867 and the timeline of Indigenous people in Canada extends even further. “This is why the exhibit is so important,” she said.

Ekins said it was the best attended opening of the season, welcoming about 300 to 400 people, and resulted in early sales of four works of art by Indigenous artists.

Shelby Lisk, a Haudenosaunee artist who contributed to the exhibit, said she appreciates how the show questioned the way stories are told and histories are portrayed in Canada.

“I have always felt strange about patriotism as an Indigenous person living in a colonized nation,” Lisk said.

“I never want to make people feel bad and I realize that people will continue to celebrate Canada Day,” she added, “but even if they can take a few minutes out of their parties to think about how Indigenous people fit into the representations and celebrations of Canada, we can start to broaden the perspective and dialogue.”

Alexandre Aimée, a Métis Franco-Ontarian artist also involved in the exhibit, described art as a tool of communication that makes difficult subjects easier to express and vocalize through imagery.

“The exhibit started dialogue, which is important especially starting off this year,” she said.

According to Aimée, the opening night of the show welcomed an interesting medley of people — from government workers to artists, and lawyers to students.

“I think it is important to give platforms to the Indigenous artists of this land but also important that the other qualities they have to offer — like their wonderful artistic talent — should be made available much in the same way as are the talents of others,” said Ekins.

By adding these artists to the roster, Ekins said Studio Sixty Six intended to make artistic and cultural diversity the norm for the work shown and sold at the gallery and in Ottawa’s commercial art market as a whole.

Moving forward, however, amidst the upcoming official Canada 150 celebrations, Lisk urges Canadians to recognize the history they are celebrating.

“We need to make sure that we are not silencing the true history of the country and the Indigenous nations. We need to not use Indigenous imagery and traditions as tokens so that we can look like a ‘diverse and inclusive’ country with no race relation issues,” Lisk said.
“We need to ask Indigenous people how they want to be represented.”

This article first appeared in Vol. 9, No. 5 (February/March 2017).

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