“Water is Sacred” say the protest signs as a North Dakota winter approaches the Standing Rock Lakota Reservation. Here at the junction of the Missouri and the Cannonball Rivers, thousands of protesters have gathered to stop or, at least reroute, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). They’re demanding attention on environmental issues, especially clean water for the tribe and the farmers downstream, and the rights of indigenous people. One letter of support has come from across the Atlantic Ocean—from Wales.
Three Welsh activists, Eddie Ladd, Sioned Haf, and Robat Idris, sent a message in August to “the Great Sioux Nation in North Dakota” in support of their “principled stand” against the pipeline. They noted the protesters respect for the Earth, for people, language, traditions, and their “resilience to survive despite the harsh blows of history.” They wrote with the historic weight of England leaning on them.
They remembered Tryweryn when Capel Celyn was drowned over fifty years ago to build a reservoir for Liverpool in England. Now they are protesting a nuclear power plant in Wales and the “possibilities / probabilities” of pollution. “We believe that your values as a people are vital to you, as they are for us.”
Eddie Ladd is a television presenter from S4C and a former member of the theatre company Brith Gof (Faint Recollection). As a dancer, she choreographed Dawns Ysbrydion (Ghost Dance) for Treweryn. The title refers to the Paiute spiritual circle dance of 1890 from the Massacre of Wounded Knee.
Sioned Haf is a researcher at Bangor University dealing with sustainable development and renewable energy in rural areas. She has also worked with Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society), backing other groups defending minority languages.
Robat Idris is an activist with PAWB (People Against Wylfa-B) fighting against the proposed new nuclear power plant in Wylfa on the Isle of Anglesey and opposing corporate pollution of the land.
Ladd, Haf, and Idris joined their concerns to the people of Standing Rock saying, “We believe that the brave stand taken by you, the Lakota of Standing Rock, together with your friends from other nations, is of great importance. No water, no life. Best regards and Tókhi wániphika ní! [Good luck!]”
Even so, oil pipelines have been running across America for over half a century. The Keystone XL was canceled in 2015, but the Enbridge System was started in 1950. The major Canadian line runs from Edmonton, Alberta to Montreal, Quebec, while the American line cuts south to Chicago, Illinois.
The original 2010 Keystone Pipeline runs from Alberta to Manitoba, Canada, then down across the US border through the Dakotas to Steele City, Nebraska before heading east across Missouri and the Mississippi River, running through the cornfields of southern Illinois to Patoka, where the oil tank farm is larger than the village itself. The Extensions run south from Nebraska to Houston and Port Arthur, Texas on the Gulf Coast. The international XL would have cut the hypotenuse with a much larger diameter pipe.
The Dakota Access Pipeline, already mostly finished, starts in the Williston Basin oil shale and runs directly southeast to Patoka, just east of the proposed XL route. Both lines cross rivers and watersheds—sources for drinking water and irrigation—productive farmland, and, between Standing Rock and Bismarck, capital of North Dakota, disputed treaty land granted in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie.
The US Army Corps of Engineers fast-tracked the DAPL permit process for a privately-owned company, granting exemptions from review required by the 1972 Clean Water Act. The fact that the line cuts across legally disputed treaty lands, ancestral burial grounds, and the upper Missouri River watershed that covers one-sixth of the United States, seems to have been ignored. So the question is, do oil and water mix?