Students, professors and Native American leaders held an all-day “teach-in” Monday at Gonzaga University to protest the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which triggered a monthslong standoff and violent clashes with police near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
A day of lectures and seminars in the ballroom of Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Center concluded with a candlelit procession over the Spokane River. The events were held on President’s Day to send a message to President Donald Trump, who signed an order last month allowing the final stretch of the pipeline to be installed below the Missouri River.
“We need to take practical steps to wean ourselves off dirty fossil fuels,” said Jacob Johns, a local environmental activist. “This is not just an indigenous problem. This is a human problem.”
Since last summer, thousands of protesters calling themselves “water protectors” have attempted to block the final phase of construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, alleging it threatens drinking water and Native American cultural sites. The company building the pipeline, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, disputes that.
As of Monday, a few hundred protesters remained at an encampment in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, although state and federal authorities have given them until Wednesday to leave or face possible arrest, the Associated Press reported. And last week a federal judge rejected a motion for a restraining order that would have temporarily halted work on the pipeline.
The keynote speaker at the Gonzaga teach-in was Edward Valandra, a member of the Rosebud Sioux and founder of the Community for the Advancement of Native Studies.
“This notion of modernity is supposed to be a positive and a good thing, but in the long run the costs outweigh the benefits,” Valandra said, predicting that the pipeline will fail at some point in the future, spilling oil into the Missouri River.
“This is 2017 now,” Valandra said. But to many indigenous people, he said, “it feels like the 1800s.”
Rashay Castillo, a teacher at the Salish School of Spokane, said she visited one of the encampments in North Dakota in September, shortly after a private security force hired by Energy Transfer Partners unleashed dogs on pipeline protesters.
“We need to consider humanity, living creatures, our planet,” Castillo said, “over big profit.”
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