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As Dakota Access Pipeline protests continue, Minnesota activists make their way west

Two charter buses of high school students and other supporters will be heading to North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Angelica Pacheco and her family visited the Standing Rock encampment last weekend in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where thousands have gathered in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Courtesy of Angelica Pacheco

For Angelica Pacheco, the eight-hour drive from Minneapolis to Cannon Ball, North Dakota was tiresome but worth it. “So many people were out there from different tribes,” she said. “It was amazing.”

Last weekend, Pacheco drove with her family to the Cannonball River site just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where thousands of American Indians and environmental advocates have encamped over the last month to prevent further construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline — a planned 1,200 mile pipeline meant to carry oil from the Bakken fields to Illinois.

Since earlier this summer, Energy Transfer Partners — the company building the pipeline — has been in a confrontation with environmental activists and Native American tribes from across the nation, who say construction of the pipeline will endanger nearby water sources and desecrate sacred land.

Pacheco, who’s Ojibway, said she and her family went to show solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and others opposing the pipeline. But they aren’t the only Minnesotans making the trek. Many from the state have already made the trip since early September, and more than a hundred also plan to make the journey this weekend.

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Mary Anne Quiroz, director of Indigenous Roots and policy director for Minneapolis Council Member Alondra Cano, will be making her second trip to Cannon Ball this weekend, and she’s taking two full charter buses of high school students and other supporters with her. The trip, which was created in partnership between Indigenous Roots, MN350, Little Earth of United Tribes and District V of the Ho-Chunk Nation, originally started as a vanload of people, Quiroz said, but quickly grew. “You tell one youth of something and they tell ten of their friends,” she said, laughing.

Each bus holds 50 people, said MN350 Program Director Kate Jacobs. On top of that, she said, they now have a waitlist for more people who want to go, a U-Haul carrying supplies, and at least five cars traveling along with them on the way there. “It’s going to be quite a trip,” Jacobs said.

Ashley Fairbanks, who’s Anishinaabe and lives in Minneapolis, said she’ll be the one hauling all the winter supplies to the camp on Friday to help those at the encampment prepare for the oncoming cold weather. Over the last couple weeks, Fairbanks helped raise $10,000 to buy tents, cots, stoves, a hot water tank and other supplies for the North Dakota site, she said. “We reached out mostly to church congregations and different organizations,” she said, “and everyone fundraised together.”

Andy Pearson, MN350 Midwest Tar Sands Coordinator, said it makes sense Minnesotans are getting so involved in the demonstrations in North Dakota, even though the pipeline won’t go through Minnesota. Earlier this month, Enbridge, the company that planned to build the Sandpiper pipeline in northern Minnesota, backed out of that project and said they plan to invest in the Dakota Access line, according to an Enbridge spokesperson.

But Pearson said if Dakota Access gets built despite strong American Indian and environmentalism opposition, it could set a strong precedent that could apply to other potential pipelines in Minnesota like the Sandpiper.

Thorne LaPointe, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in Minnesota (or Sicangu Lakota), agreed, saying he wants to see the country stop implementing new pipelines across the nation and in general invest more in alternative energy. LaPointe traveled to Cannon Ball two weeks ago from his Minneapolis home, but can’t afford to go back for another couple weeks. What impressed him most when he was there, he said, was just how many different Native tribes from around the country had gathered there — some coming from as far as Hawaii.

LaPointe said he’s never seen so many tribes — including the Lakota, Anishinaabe, Ho-Chunk and Cro nations — unify like this and he hopes it sets a precedent for future cooperation. “The way Native tribes are coming together is unprecedented and historical,” he said of the Standing Rock encampment. “It’s also a model of how we should come together in the future, because there’s a sense of belonging there … that gives us power.”

Quiroz said she’s getting a similar reaction from her group back in the Twin Cities. Many of the youth heading to Cannon Ball on Friday’s charter buses are American Indian, she said, but others are just Minnesota youth passionate about the issue. “Everybody is coming together,” Quiroz said. “The Twin Cities is going to be well represented there.”