Pipeline protest plea was for $5000 - they got $1 million

By Regina Garcia Cano

Holly Doll, of Mandan, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, holds a protest sign outside the state's capitol building, in Bismarck, North Dakota. Photo / AP
Holly Doll, of Mandan, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, holds a protest sign outside the state's capitol building, in Bismarck, North Dakota. Photo / AP

The crowdsourcing goal was modest: US$5000, enough to help a few dozen people camping in North Dakota to protest against the nearby construction of the four-state Dakota Access oil pipeline.

The fund has since topped a staggering US$1 million.

The fund is among several cash streams that have provided at least US$3 million to help with legal costs, food and other supplies to those opposing the nearly 1930km pipeline.

It may also give protesters the ability to prolong their months-long encampments that have attracted thousands of supporters, as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe pursues the fight in court.

And as the number of protest-related arrests increased last week, so did contributions: Funds raked in more than US$200,000 between Friday and Saturday alone.

But demonstrators are quick to note that the amount of money raised and what they have left isn't the same.

"It still feels unreal sometimes because it is such an astronomical figure to me," said Ho Waste Wakiya Wicasa, the protester who set up the GoFundMe account that's raised more than US$1 million, primarily for operating expenses at the camp that took root in April.

"The money goes as quickly as it comes, but without it having been as much as it is, we certainly wouldn't have been able to be as productive as we have been in the fight," Wicasa said.

For months now, opponents of the US$3.8 billion pipeline - which is slated to move oil from North Dakota though South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois - have been camping near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers.

They worry the project will disrupt cultural artifacts and hurt drinking water sources on the Standing Rock Sioux's nearby reservation and farther downstream because the pipeline will cross the Missouri River.

The Texas-based company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, insists the project is safe.

The tribe is fighting the pipeline's permitting process in federal court.

Since the number of protesters soared in August in North Dakota, donations started rolling in more frequently and more than 400 people have been arrested - including more than 140 on Friday when officers evicted protesters camping on private land recently acquired by Energy Transfer Partners.

But running a camp - and readying it for North Dakota's brutal winter - isn't cheap.

The account Wicasa set up had only about US$100,000 left as of Saturday, according to LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historian and preservation employee who provided family land for one of the smaller encampments.

The money has been used for grocery store trips every two days that cost about US$2000 each, 20 yurts purchased for US$160,000, and around US$7000 for bail money.

It has also paid for a storage area, composting toilets, tiny houses, tepees, a medical area and generators powered by solar panels and wind.

A book-keeper and an accountant now keep track of the crowd-sourced money.

"I got people to take care of," Brave Bull Allard said. "I got to provide homes for people and blankets, thermal wear, socks, hats and gloves, and food. Right now, we are feeding 670 people."

One online legal defence fund has raised more than US$655,000 for "the legal defence of warriors protecting land, water and human rights".

Much of the money the tribe is using for the legal fight is from at least US$1.3 million in direct donations, tribal chairman Dave Archambault told AP. He declined to say how much tribal officials have spent so far, saying that could give their opponents an advantage in the legal case.

Energy Transfer Partners also has declined to provide an estimate of its legal expenses. The tribe is pursuing appeals after losing in lower courts.

The Standing Rock Sioux didn't solicit money, Archambault said, but asked other tribes for letters of support or formal resolutions.

He said it was only after other tribes, including the Red Lake Nation and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Minnesota, inquired about financial contributions that leaders decided to accept money for legal costs.

And as the protests continued, the tribe decided to also use part of the money for waste-management services for protesters, he said.

"I know the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not alone; we have overwhelming support," Archambault said, adding that his tribe would in return help other tribes "in their fight against corporations".

Among the donors to online fundraisers is southern New Hampshire resident Carol DiPirro. She gave US$30, motivated in part because of a fight her community waged against a natural gas pipeline.

"They are saying the same thing: This is our water supply. You run a pipeline through it and it leaks, you are poisoning us. That's exactly what I spent two years of my life saying," DiPirro said. "This really, really struck a chord with me."

- AP

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