MIAMI — An Oklahoma-based group –The Oklahoma Water Protectors — is returning to North Dakota and the Standing Rock area that has been the scene of a months-long protest.
The group will take supplies to those who are protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline project.
“When we were at Standing Rock we realized that a lot of the supplies that they had anticipated being able to use for the rest of the year was taken to an absolute minimum because they had three and four times the number of people that were supposed to be there,” said OWP member Will Leonard of Quapaw. “When we got home, we got together as a group, away from Veterans for Standing Rock, and started Oklahoma Water Protectors.”
Leonard said the group’s primary goal is to deliver supplies that were tapped out by the large number of protestors.
He said the group also plans on building two stables for the Lakota Tribe to house horses.
“The Lakotas believe in the horse nation being very sacred,” said Leonard, a member of the Cherokee Nation. “So with that, they have tenders that stay with them day and night. They don’t have any kind of stables or any kind of shelter. So you have people anywhere from 14 all the way up to 60 that are staying out there with them in the elements, negative-23 degrees and 55 mile per hour winds. It's pretty tough.”
The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes are fighting the Dakota Access project because they fear it will harm drinking water and cultural sites. Pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners disputes that and says the 1,200-mile pipeline through the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois will be safe.
The pipeline is nearly complete outside of a stretch beneath a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota, just to the north of the Standing Rock reservation.
Leonard was among 28 veterans from northeastern Oklahoma that spent four days in North Dakota earlier this month.
Eight were expected to make the first trip.
“As the donations come in and we meet that goal ($30,000) we will probably bump that up to 12 because of the amount of drivers that we are going to need for the vehicles,” Leonard said.
The group has started GoFundMe and Facebook pages.
“Our biggest logistical nightmare is making sure that we don’t strap their supply chain with the people that we are taking, but at the same time, taking enough people so that we can complete the work,” Leonard said.
Leonard said there are other groups like OWP, but they are smaller and more concentrated groups. Colleges are also hosting fry bread dinners — one was held recently at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, he added.
“This will be an ongoing deal,” Leonard said. “We plan on taking a trip every two months and resupply at least until summer gets here and they can start rebuilding themselves to the way they were before.”
The completion of the oil pipeline has been delayed after the U.S. Army declined to grant an easement for the final few thousand feet under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota pending further study.
Pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners originally was expected to finish the pipeline before the end of this year, but the Army's move likely delays it by several months. That will be costly to the Dallas-based company, but industry experts say it's unlikely to kill the project completely.
“The last words we got before we left were that Dakota Access had decided that they would just pay the (daily) fine and continue working,” Leonard said. “The fine is between $35,000 to $50,000 a day. Granted, this is all passed through word-of-mouth along the line, but they would just continue drilling, pay the fines and deal with the crossing whenever they got there.”
The line originally was to have passed through Bismarck, North Dakota, but “it was too much of an environmental hazard,” Leonard said.
“We are simply taking supplies. We are not going to get involved with any marching, any lines or doing anything like that,” Leonard said. “We are simply going for the humanitarian factor.”