You could hear the pounding drums and pulsing chants from blocks away. Get closer, and you could smell the smoke.
Students, Bloomington residents and Native American activists descended Sunday on the Sample Gates to rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline and demonstrate solidarity for the North Dakota Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The rally followed news Saturday that the United States government would temporarily halt work on the Dakota Access Pipeline after concerns were raised regarding the pipeline’s proximity to land considered sacred by Native Americans and a lake the Standing Rock Sioux rely on for clean water.
Bloomington resident Taylor McCart organized the rally. After contacting Chief Michael of the Four Nations Sundance Native American community, word spread fast and attracted out-of-towners. In all, more than 100 people turned up, many of whom brought with them vested interests in the Pipeline.
Among those coming to Bloomington specifically for the rally was Native American actor and producer Matthew Black Eagle Man. Hailing form Manitoba, Canada, he used the rally as an opportunity to speak frankly on the relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. government.
“When is the genocide against my people going to stop?” said Black Eagle Man.
The applause and whooping in response to that question was some of the loudest heard all afternoon.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a nearly 1,200 mile, 30-inch-diameter pipeline set to connect oil production sites at Bakken and Three Forks, North Dakota, to Patoka, Illinois. It will also cut through South Dakota and Iowa.
Laura Reagan, a third-generation member of the American Indian Movement, was particularly concerned about the potential for water pollution.
“This is not just a native issue,” Reagan said. “If that pipeline breaks, it will poison the water supply for millions of people within minutes.”
In 10 minutes, oil from a pipeline break would reach the water intake for the entire Standing Rock nation, she said.
According to the Dakota Access Pipeline website, a top priority of the pipeline is to protect landowner interests and the local environment. Recent clashes with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe suggest a different story. Traveling activist Carl Broken Leg is only one of many skeptics.
“It’s all about money for them,” he said. “It’s not for us.”
The size of the project, and the vehement opposition with which it has been met, has led some to call it a spiritual successor to the equally ambitious and now defunct Keystone XL project, which would have covered the roughly 1,200 mile gap of American wilderness.
Though both projects are far away from Bloomington, McCart warned pipeline leakage would affect everyone.
“Water is cyclical,” McCart said. “If you desecrate one droplet of water, that desecration spreads.”
In an effort to engage in the politics that dominate oil pipeline production, Black Eagle Man concluded his speech with a request.
“I have a partisan plea,” he said. “I want to buy a bottle of water for every United States congressman, every United States senator, and tell them to hang onto it for seven generations. A bottle of water for every person making decisions that are going to kill us.”
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