MIKE JACOBS: Pipeline protest shows new dimension in North Dakota politics

North Dakota still responds to an Indian scare. That's one thing we can say about last week's news. On Friday, Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a civil emergency in response to a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline would cross th...

Shane Balkowitsch of Bismarck stands in the back of a pickup to take a photo using the wet plate collodion process, at the site of a protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction project near the Standing Rock Reservation in south central North Dakota.

North Dakota still responds to an Indian scare. That's one thing we can say about last week's news.

On Friday,  Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a civil emergency  in response to  a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline . The pipeline would cross the Missouri River less than a mile from the boundary of the Standing Rock Sioux nation.

Protests last week brought more than 1,000 people. Arrests were made.

Emergency declarations aren't all that uncommon in North Dakota, but almost all of them address natural disasters. North Dakota knows natural disaster. Hardly a year goes by without natural disaster. This place is flood prone, snow blasted and wind battered.

Civil disturbance is another thing.


The last civil emergency that comes to mind occurred in 1970, when Gov. William Guy sent the National Guard to an anti-war protest at the ABM missile site near Nekoma, N.D. A year before that, Guy called out the Guard when a bunch of college students descended on Zap, N.D., with the express purpose of getting drunk and having a good time. Some damage was done.

Dalrymple didn't send the Guard to the mouth of the Cannonball River. His emergency declaration is just in case local law enforcement needs help, he said.

Besides pointing out that this step is extremely rare, we can say some other things about it.

One is that Native opposition to pipeline projects is becoming a pattern. The Enbridge Company's Sandpiper line is stalled due to opposition from Minnesota's White Earth Band of Ojibway. Their spokeswoman is Winona LaDuke, who was Ralph Nader's running mate in 1996 and 2000 when he was the Green Party candidate for president.

The partnership between Native people and environmentalists is part of the pattern. We saw this in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline, and it's evident at the mouth of the Cannonball. The protest there has drawn movie stars as well as environmental activists.

That pretty much makes it the current front line in the war on fossil fuels.

It's easy to suggest (as some bloggers have done) that the tribe is being used.

There are two problems with this. For one thing, it's condescending. For another, it overlooks the growing activism of  North Dakota's Native people .


This activism is especially evident at  Standing Rock .

Opposition from the elected Tribal Council at Standing Rock doomed  UND's nickname and logo . The NCAA said using "Fighting Sioux" would be OK if both of the state's Sioux communities said so. Standing Rock refused.

Another thing to say is that  David Archambault, Standing Rock's tribal chair , has warrior blood in his veins. He's been on the front lines at the protest. On the pipeline issue, he's led the tribe to federal court and to the United Nations.

This is no surprise. At the opening of the 2015 legislative session, Archambault delivered the "State of the Relationship" message, a cry from the heart in which he spoke truth to power about Native issues and state jurisdiction.

Then there's the political context.

North Dakota's November ballot has three Native candidates:  Chase Iron Eyes  for Congress, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun for Public Service Commission and Ruth Buffalo for insurance commissioner. All are Democrats, and none has much of a chance.

But each of them stepped up to fill slots on a major party ticket.

This has two important implications. First, as major party candidates, they will have media access. Second, they've established that the Democratic Party in the state can't just count on Native voters; it must also promote Native candidates to the white population.


It's also the essence of political organizing, as Mark Trahant pointed out in his blog, at Trahant is the nation's best known native journalist, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and a member of the faculty at UND's Program in Communication.

None of this goes to the question of pipeline safety, much less to the future of fossil fuel development.

On these issues, everybody ought to be heard.

So there is one more thing, at least, to say about last week's developments.

Brian Kalk, one of three members of the Public Service Commission that approved a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline, dismissed the protest. He told the Bismarck Tribune, "These groups didn't come to our hearings."


They could have been asked.

That's what "public service" means.


Disclaimers: Enbridge has right-of way on property that my partner Suezette and I own in Mountrail County, N.D. I was at Nekoma with the protesters. I was not at the so-called "Zip to Zap."

Jacobs is retired as editor and publisher of the Herald. Readers can reach him at .

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