By a unanimous vote Monday night, the Duluth City Council passed a resolution voicing support for demonstrators who have been working to block the construction of a petroleum pipeline under the Missouri River in North Dakota.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been at the center of that demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline with the stated purpose of protecting sacred land and waters. Duluth’s Indigenous Commission issued its own resolution of support in November and on Monday the City Council followed its lead.
“We’re asking you to take a stand and support Standing Rock,” said Babette Sandman, the commission’s chairwoman.
Skip Sandman also voiced his opinion at the meeting, saying: “It’s not a question of if that pipeline breaks but when, and it won’t just affect the Standing Rock Sioux but everyone downstream.”
A handful of critics suggested the city of Duluth had best stay out of the situation.
Dan Olson, a representative of the Labor International Union in Superior, said the pipeline project has created hundreds of jobs, and only the final segment beneath the river has yet to be completed. He said many of the workers on the job “are fearful for their lives” in the face of protesters trespassing on their worksite.
Barbara Montee, a Duluth resident originally from North Dakota, suggested demonstrators at Standing Rock are misguided.
“I believe the indigenous people are being used, and I don’t think they will ultimately be the ones who will benefit from the attention at Standing Rock,” she said.
Peggy Roy, who has visited the demonstration at Standing Rock with her grandchild, said: “I am not a protester. I am a water protector.”
As for the idea that Native Americans are being used by others, Roy said: “That’s pretty patronizing, and I take offense to that.”
Bob Miller, who identified himself as a member of the Bear Clan, said it’s not surprising the pipeline project was rerouted from its original route just north of Bismarck to a more remote location just on the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation.
“Time and again reservations are used. Time and again our land is taken. And time and again, our land is abused,” he said.
On Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not issue a permit for the portion of the pipeline proposed to cross below Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River. The Corps called for a full-blown Environmental Impact statement to be prepared, evaluating alternate routes, exploring the potential risk of a spill and the danger that would pose to the tribe’s drinking water supply, and examining tribal treaty rights that might come into play.
The permit denial certainly will delay the completion of the 1,172-mile line, but the destiny of the project remains unclear, especially in light of the approaching inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has expressed support for the pipeline.
Ashley Compton, a Duluth resident, warned the council against complacency in the face of the recent permit denial.
“This is not a time to rest on our laurels. This is not over by any means,” she said.
Councilors Gary Anderson and Em Westerlund proposed the resolution.
“There are those who have criticized myself and Councilor Westerlund, saying that we are stepping out of line. And speaking from my heart and from my guts, this council is here for the people, for the people who are here now, for the people who couldn’t be here, and for the people who are to come,” Anderson said.
“We are a political body, and if I’m not doing my job right, then I won’t be elected should I choose to run again. But for this resolution, I’m absolutely willing to put it on the line. It’s just simple. We are the water,” he said.
The resolution passed the council 8-0, with 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle absent, as he left the meeting early.