By Gabrielle Garay | email@example.com
As a new day begins, the sun illuminates North Dakota and the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the sixth largest Native American reservation site in the United States.
While the sun rises, so do the dozens of people sleeping under the open sky in campgrounds near the Cannonball River. Some are from the reservation, while others traveled across the United States, all with a common goal that unites them: fight to stop the building of the North Dakota Access Pipeline. Though hundreds of miles away, last Tuesday night on Nov. 15, the fight came to St. Augustine.
In an event organized on Facebook by St. Augustine resident Megan Soto, dozens came together to protest the building of the North Dakota Access Pipeline.
“When I saw that there was going to be a day of action I looked if there were any events in town. There weren’t, so mostly I decided ‘why not?’ ” Soto said.
As the sun was setting over St. Augustine the protesters crossed the Bridge of Lions with posters in hand. They made their way to a gazebo in the center of downtown to stand in solidarity with the protestors across the county. “We stand with Standing Rock!” and “Water is life!” rang through the air as the protestors chanted, drawing the attention of passers-by and First Coast News, an NBC affiliate in Jacksonville.
The protest also attracted the attention of Flagler College students.
“I participated in the Dakota Access Pipeline protest because I couldn’t just sit back and not take a stand on a serious issue … this protest was my opportunity to be active,” Flagler College student Cait Kimball said. “I think these protests, which have been held nationwide, are our generation’s moment in history to decide whether or not we will allow our country to continue down this path in which we sacrifice our water, environment, and the rights of the indigenous.”
Though the protesting has been peaceful in St. Augustine and many other cities across the nation, it hasn’t been the same for those on the front lines in North Dakota. In recent days, protests have grown increasingly violent as protestors and law enforcement continue to clash. Late Sunday, a crowd of an estimated 400 protestors engaged in what was described as an “ongoing riot” by Morton County Sheriff’s Department. In an effort to crowd control, officers fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and used water hoses, despite the weather being below freezing.
In response to the violence the Army Corps of Engineers issued a letter this Friday Nov. 25, according to Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The letter informed the tribe that the Corps will be closing the land that has been the campsite for the protests, and protestors must vacate property by Dec. 5 or they will be arrested.
“This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontation between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions,” Col. John Henderson of the Corps said in the letter to Archambault II.
The protests center around the North Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion dollar project that would span from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day, pump millions of dollars into local economies, and add 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs, according to Energy Transfer, the builders of the pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation lies just south of the pipelines planned path. The pipeline would snake across open land and ranches, land that the tribe claims are ancestral. This includes lands where their ancestors lived, hunted and were buried. The pipeline would cross the Missouri River, the reservation’s only source of drinking water. If the pipeline were to break or leak, it would be detrimental not only to the tribe, but to the entire river and environment, opponents say.
Soto hopes the protest in St. Augustine will encourage others to do the same.
“Awareness is the first step to change,” she said. “We get people traveling from all over the country – and world – to our town, so I hope that by taking the protest to the center of our tourism it will hopefully ripple out to communities well beyond St. Augustine.”