Indigenous advocates on Friday noted the stark contrast between the treatment of two Native American water protectors criminally charged for peacefully protesting the Keystone XL pipeline with that of supporters of President Donald Trump who have been openly boasting about their participation in Wednesday's deadly mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.
"Our people will not be bullied, and we're not criminals for protecting our water. What they forget to realize is that we have been occupying and living on this land for generations."
Cheyenne River Sioux activist
According to the Lakota People's Law Project, Jasilyn Charger and Oscar High Elk were charged in Phillip, South Dakota for previous protest activities against the pipeline. The Cheyenne River Sioux activists were part of a resistance camp on their reservation, which is about 100 miles from the proposed route of the pipeline.
Charger, who locked herself to a pump station in November 2020, was arraigned for alleged misdemeanor trespassing. High Elk—whose protest was also entirely peaceful—faces 12 counts, including felony aggravated assault and felony aggravated eluding. If convicted on all counts he could be jailed for as long as 23 years.
Keystone XL would transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The pipeline is opposed by leading Indigenous and environmental groups because it would carry what the National Congress of American Indians calls "the world's dirtiest and most environmentally destructive form of oil."
Not only would the pipeline threaten the Ogallala aquifer upon which millions of people depend for their drinking water, it would also bring in large numbers of temporary male workers whose presence is a threat—sometimes a deadly one—to local Indigenous women and girls.
"This is on my people's land, and I have the right to protect it for my future generations," Charger said, according to Lakota People's Law Project. "Our people will not be bullied, and we're not criminals for protecting our water. What they forget to realize is that we have been occupying and living on this land for generations."
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"This just goes to show that we need to keep showing up as a people," she added. "We need to keep up the resistance."
"Though plenty of white Trump supporters who terrorized the Capitol face little consequence, Jasilyn Charger and Oscar High Elk are charged for nonviolently resisting oil pipeline construction in South Dakota." Read our latest release via @ICTPressPool https://t.co/fYb2ujHu2K
— Lakota Law Project (@lakotalaw) January 8, 2021
Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People's Law Project, a nonprofit organization helping with the legal defense of one of the activists, noted that "at a time when white rioters are being let off the hook after raiding the nation's Capitol and driving legislators into hiding, Native Americans and other people of color are still being dealt harsh criminal charges for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience."
Like that of the Indigenous activists, the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline is up in the air. During his first week in office, President Donald Trump reversed executive action by the Obama administration halting work on Keystone XL and the Dakota Access (DAPL) pipelines. The Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota, was the site of a massive Indigenous-led resistance against DAPL and brutal state and corporate repression of the water protectors in 2016 and 2017.
However, in May 2020 a federal judge in Montana cited the Endangered Species Act in an order blocking construction of the Keystone XL pipeline across domestic waterways, a ruling upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Last month, a judge in Nebraska barred any additional Keystone XL-related eminent domain orders in that state after President-elect Joe Biden—at the time a candidate—said he would rescind the pipeline's permit.