Water Is Life: Wayne State NLG Supports the Standing Rock Water Protectors

By Henry Schneider, WSU NLG Facilitator

Beginning in October 2016, the Wayne State University Chapter of the NLG began collecting donations for the Sacred Stone Camp and the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC). In January 2017, the WSU NLG organized a panel that would (1) orient the audience to the legal claims the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) have against the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), (2) familiarize the audience with the tools available to resist the DAPL and projects like it, and (3) generate monetary support for the WPLC.

For legal expertise, we enlisted the help of Dr. Kirsten Carlson and Professor Nick Schroeck from WSU Law School. Nick Schroeck is the Director of the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic at WSU. Professor Kirsten Carlson is an expert in Tribal Law and began the panel with an outline of the legal claims the SRST have against ACE. Ultimately, the SRST are challenging the DAPL permitting process under the Clean Water Act and NEPA. The SRST allege that the pipeline passes through lands of cultural, religious and spiritual significance and the studies have failed to adequately address both these considerations and the indirect environmental consequences posed by DAPL.

Professor Nick Schroeck discussed the health risks associated with pipelines and the permitting process required for such projects. Schroeck said, “We’re going to be transporting crude, refining oil, making gasoline as long as oil is part of our economic engine. There are consequences whether you have it in a pipeline, truck or rail.” Professor Schroeck discussed how many of the legal tools available to resist oil pipelines can only hope to delay projects until money or political willpower run out. “Part of this [effort] will be civil disobedience,” Schroeck said.

To address this aspect, the WSU NLG enlisted the help of Shanna Merola and two Detroit-based indigenous activists who all traveled to Standing Rock in the fall of 2016. Shanna Merola, Legal Observer Coordinator for the Detroit & Michigan NLG, spoke to her experiences with the militarized police response in Standing Rock and the legal support network that developed for Water Protectors. Working under the WPLC, Shanna served as a liaison between the medic and legal support tents, assisted daily Water Protector trainings, and observed police at prayer ceremonies.

Soufy is a hip-hop artist and indigenous activist with The Raiz Up, an indigenous art and hip-hop collective based in Southwest Detroit. Lisa Bruck is a Detroit-based Ojibwe activist and performer, who organizes around environmental justice in Michigan and abroad. Before Standing Rock, both had organized around water justice in Flint and in Detroit and both spoke to the historical novelty of the Standing Rock movement. Never before had so many Native Americans come together for a single purpose. “This was prophesized,” Soufy said. “A black snake would come and the tribes would unite.”

Lisa stressed the idea that we can engage in water rights activism at home, and in doing so we are joining with the Water Protectors in Standing Rock. “Everyone can’t go out there, but what you can do is divest from those banks. Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, JP Morgan-Chase…” Lisa said. As Lisa concluded, “Ultimately the goal is to find a new source of energy. Oil has to stay in the ground, or it will spill. It’s not if, but when. We have to think seven generations ahead. There’s nothing wrong with thinking that way.”

If you would like video of the panel for yourself or your NLG chapter, please contact Henry Schneider at ec7421@wayne.edu. For a detailed timeline of events relating to Standing Rock, please visit sacredstonecamp.org/dapl-timeline/.

Photo: Detroit solidarity at Standing Rock. (Curtis McGuire)

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