Alaskans protest North Dakota pipeline by paddling in solidarity

Members of the One People Canoe Society from Juneau paddled in unison today down the Missouri River in North Dakota. The trip is a show of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux who are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline Project. A federal court is expected to rule on whether pipeline construction goes forward tomorrow.

Elizabeth Harball from Alaska’s Energy Desk talked with one Alaskan who is there and has this story.

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Wearing traditional hats and blue life vests, the Alaskans are there to help protest an oil pipeline. If it’s built, the pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois. Developer Energy Transfer Partners says the pipeline is the safest way to carry the oil. But the Standing Rock Sioux are worried the pipeline could contaminate their water.

Catherine Edwards, who is from Juneau but now lives in Washington, is a member of the Tlingit and Haida Central Council. She was standing on a windy hill waiting for her daughter, Miciana Hutcherson, who was helping paddle the canoe. Before they started down the river, Edwards says the group held a ceremony with water they brought from the Pacific Northwest.

They brought the water down with them, poured it in, did a water ceremony, poured it into the river, and said we now stand with you in your body of water, to keep it protected, to keep it safe, said Edwards.

Edwards says there’s a feeling of unity among the protesters.

I mean you can feel it, you can feel it’s a movement, you can feel it’s a shift, you can feel people coming together and, you know, ‘hi where are you from, you know, these are our issues, our issues are similar to yours,” said Edwards.

And we all want to stand up here and say ‘we’re done, we’re done with this. You can’t just walk over us anymore,” said Edwards.

Several national news outlets reported some violent clashes between demonstrators and private security guards, and the National Guard was called in. But Edwards says organizers are emphasizing non-violent protests.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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