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Endangered Species Mural at Standing Rock Supports Tribal Push to Protect Water, Sacred Land From Pipeline

Dakota Skipper Mural Is Tenth Installment in National Endangered Species Mural Project


In support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's campaign to protect their water and sacred grounds from the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Center for Biological Diversity and artist Roger Peet have installed a mural of an endangered butterfly at the Oceti Sakowin camp, where hundreds of tribes and allies have gathered in peaceful protest.

In addition to the threat to people, water and sacred places, the pipeline will also kill the Dakota skipper, a rare prairie butterfly protected under the Endangered Species Act. The brightly colored butterfly mural is intended as a show of support of the gathering of water protectors and to symbolize the harm the project will cause to people and wildlife. It is painted on the side of a structure built by the "Shelter for the Storm" project to provide shelter for indigenous media collectives during the frigid winter.

"It was an honor to paint this mural in the Oceti Sakowin frontline camp, and to offer it to the assembled water protectors as something bright and beautiful within the vibrant assembled communities of First Nations peoples," said Roger Peet, who leads the Center's national endangered species mural project. "The struggle at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline is native-led and native-voiced, and the protectors there are facing down police violence in defense of all species, large and small, including even the tiny but tough Dakota skipper."

Dakota skippers are small butterflies with hooked antennae and thick, muscular bodies that enable a faster, more powerful flight than other butterflies. They have already lost nearly two-thirds of their original range due to loss of native prairie habitat. They are currently found only in the eastern half of North Dakota, northeastern South Dakota and western Minnesota, and are already extirpated in Iowa and Illinois. They were protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the threatened butterflies will be harmed by construction and maintenance of the pipeline, but issued a permit that allows the butterflies to be killed and their habitat to be degraded. The Service suggested to the company and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the butterflies be monitored and that voluntary conservation measures be taken to try to minimize the overall harm to the species.

"Respecting the diversity of the earth's cultures and people is intrinsically connected to protecting its plants and animals, so the plight of the Dakota skipper butterfly is directly connected to the plight of indigenous cultures that will be irreparably harmed by the pipeline," said Tierra Curry, a senior biologist at the Center. "The government should stop the Dakota Access Pipeline because of the threat it poses to tribal rights, to endangered species and to our collective future."

The pipeline will harm 19 endangered species including the pallid sturgeon, Topeka shiner, whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover, rufa red knot and northern long-eared bat.

The structure on which the mural was painted is one of two designed and built by Oregon's Shelter for the Storm Project, coordinated by activists Esther Forbyn and Matt Musselwhite. It was framed entirely using solar power, and with timber felled and milled by hand from dead trees in communities in southern Oregon. Two indigenous media collectives will use the structures for warmth and power in the coming final stretch of the struggle against the pipeline.

"It's vital that indigenous voices have a warm and safe space from which to do their work," said Peet. "Our work to build and decorate these structures is a small way to help amplify the native-led struggle against the bankrupt energy systems that are destroying the world.".

Standing Rock and Dakota Access Background
The $3.8 billion pipeline would transport fracked crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. On Nov. 15, rallies were held in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., for a national day of action urging President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to permanently halt the pipeline. This call to action from indigenous leaders in Standing Rock was in response to increased violent repression from militarized police as the pipeline company continues construction on sacred land, despite a voluntary hold by the Army Corps. On Nov. 20, militarized police endangered the lives of the water protectors by attacking them with water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures and firing rubber bullets, pepper spray and concussion grenades that injured more than 300 people. The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council reports that a 21-year-old woman from New York City was severely injured by a concussion grenade thrown by police that shattered her arm.

Endangered Species Mural Project Background
The Dakota skipper mural is the 10th installment in the Center's national endangered species mural project, which aims to increase appreciation of endangered species in communities across the country. Murals already in place include the mountain caribou in Sandpoint, Idaho; the Arctic grayling in Butte, Mont.; the monarch butterfly in Minneapolis; the jaguar in Tucson, Ariz.; the blue whale and yellow-billed cuckoo in Los Angeles; the watercress darter in Birmingham, Ala.; the pink mucket pearly mussel in Knoxville, Tenn.; and the white fringeless orchid in Berea, Ky. Upcoming murals are planned of the hellbender salamander in Conway, Ark.; and the marbled murrelet, a seabird, in Arcata, Calif.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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