While much of the country was busy protesting the new president-elect, a large group of men, women, and children took to the streets of downtown Phoenix Friday afternoon to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a controversial oil pipeline that will stretch from North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois.
The group gathered in the park near Burton Barr Library, then marched up Central Avenue to Steele Indian School Park, chanting "Water is life — no pipeline!" and "Save our sacred land!"
They shouted long after their voices grew hoarse, and they cheered every time a car driving by honked in solidarity. One woman carried a giant conch shell that she blew periodically as others sounded cries of ululation.
Midway through the march, someone lit a bundle of sage, and the group carried on in a sweet-smelling smoky cloud. One of the loudest and most enthusiastic members of the crowd was a 5-year-old girl, who led a call-and-response chant of "Water is life — no pipeline!" for long stretches at a time. She wore a bright red skirt that almost touched the ground and proudly held the sign she'd made that morning.
"People over pipelines!"
"Can't drink oil, keep it in the soil!" the group chanted.
Friday's march was part of a growing grassroots movement to stop the DAPL, which protesters say threatens sacred land and the water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. It's slated to run beneath the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, less than a mile north of the tribe's reservation.
To date, about 80 percent of the pipeline has been built, but the protesters are demanding that the federal government take action to stop it or reroute it. As it stands, the future of the pipeline rests with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, which can halt construction or revoke the permit from Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, and demand they reroute it.
There were rumors that the company might unilaterally reroute the pipeline, but they were dispelled in a statement the company released last week. (Another protest has been scheduled to take place outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Phoenix office this coming Tuesday, November 15.)
"It's in this kind of limbo as everyone waits for the Army Corps, and maybe Obama — that's really the hope, that Obama will step in and call for detailed environment statement [that would stall the process]. If it gets stalled enough, investors will pull out," says Michael Rossi, who organized a solidarity gathering earlier in the fall and has remained active in the local movement to oppose the pipeline.
"I think the people on the ground are very steadfast," adds Rossi. "I don't think they're leaving, no matter what." During the march, many in the group told New Times that they believe the movement, which rallies under the hashtags #NoDAPL and #StandWithStandingRock, has been underestimated by the government and the media.
"We went to the camp when it first started," says Delorse Woodside, pointing to her sister, Janel Striped Wolf. The two are members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and describe how back in April, when the movement was just getting off the ground, the main protest area, the Sacred Stone Campsite, was populated by just a few dozen people. They sat in circles and talked about their goals for the protest and the direct-action tactics they'd be willing to take, she says.
"Now it's grown huge," she says. "There are a lot of young kids from all over there now."
"Yeah, we have negative people saying nothing will happen. But they don't realize that tribes are coming together. They're underestimating us, strength-wise. We're going to keep getting united," one of the march's organizers, Nalene Gene, 27, says.
Asked whether Tuesday's presidential election changed anything for the movement, Gene says it hasn't.
"We're still fighting the same fight as before," she says, then pauses. "Actually, if anything, it's just pushing us harder and making us stronger. Especially because Donald Trump is invested in it."
"Trump's financial-disclosure forms show [he] has between $500,000 and $1m invested in Energy Transfer Partners, with a further $500,000 to $1m holding in Phillips 66, which will have a 25 [percent] stake in the Dakota Access project once completed," reads an article in The Guardian. "Kelcy Warren, chief executive of Energy Transfer Partners, has given $103,000 to elect Trump and handed over a further $66,800 to the Republican National Committee since the property developer secured the GOP's presidential nomination."
Friday's march ended in Steele Indian School Park. Children and adults took off their sneakers, rolled up their pant legs, and waded into the small pool there.
"We have to keep a clear mind, we're all in this together," Jerome Mann, the young man who marched at the front of the line and led much of the chanting, said. The group whooped and applauded.
"People over pipelines!"
Below is video of Mann, shot earlier on Friday, as he reads aloud a poem he wrote about the significance of the movement and its place in history:
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.