PORT TOWNSEND — Members of North Olympic Peninsula activist groups gathered to show support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, which objects to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
On Tuesday afternoon, roughly 30 people, including members of the Stand with Standing Rock of Jefferson County and the Port Angeles Racial Justice Collective, gathered in Port Townsend’s Pope Marine Park to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Tribe, they said.
The rally was one of many that took place across the nation and was meant to encourage people to share their opinion of the pipeline with local, state and federal government officials.
“We just kind of jammed this one together really fast because there wasn’t a rally locally in our area,” said Carmen Bitzer, one of the organizers with Stand with Standing Rock of Jefferson County, the local branch of a national movement against the pipeline.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172-mile oil pipeline that would cut through North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. It is meant to transport crude oil from production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Ill., to more easily transport it to Texas and East Coast markets, according to the Dakota Access Pipeline website.
The pipeline has sparked concerns over possible pollution of groundwater, rivers and lakes in those states. Protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have brought the issue back into headlines in recent weeks.
Bitzer said group members plans to do more to get their message out and are working with the city of Port Townsend to organize a walk to raise awareness.
“There are a lot of people who feel strongly about this. I’ve never put myself in any kind of position like this, but someone has to say something,” said Bitzer.
“So we’re just trying to get petitions signed and raise awareness, but I encourage everyone to do their own research as well. The facts are out there.”
The Port Angeles Racial Justice Collective, a discussion group-turned-activists, is sending a group to protest in North Dakota alongside the thousands already there.
“We have some indigenous members of the group, including myself, who want to go but can’t necessarily afford the trip or the time off work,” said Jessaca Ann, a member of the collective.
“The group is just standing behind us since this is an issue near to our hearts.”
Thanks to local donations, the collective will be sending Ann, along with six other members representing the Tlingit, Aleut, Makah and Yaqui tribes, to North Dakota this morning.
The group will continue to accept donations and encourage people to donate to the protesters already there, many of whom plan to stay the winter if needed, according to North Dakota radio station KFGO.
“We just think it’s important to stand with any indigenous issue and this is an environmental issue as well,” Ann said.
The current pipeline route crosses a river just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, according to The New York Times. The river is a water source for the reservation, which initially sparked protests about the pipeline in the area.
Earlier this month, construction crews dug through an area sacred to the Sioux, causing violent clashes between protesters and private security at the pipeline construction site, according to the Times.
Last Friday, the federal government temporarily blocked construction along the pipeline route due to the increased number of protesters in the area, which has risen to more than 2,000 people, including environmental activists and representatives of tribes from across the U.S, according to a New York Times article published Tuesday.
Despite the outcry and protests popping up everywhere from London to Los Angeles in recent months and politicians such as former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaking out against the pipeline Tuesday, executives from Energy Transfers, the company behind the pipeline, said they will push to continue construction, according to CNN.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at [email protected].