Trump’s Pipeline Orders Challenge Protesters

Ignoring environmental concerns and tribal objections, President Trump has put the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines back on track without even consulting the opponents, Dennis J Bernstein reports.

By Dennis J Bernstein

On his second business day in office, President Donald Trump signed executive actions to restart construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, sending shockwaves through the indigenous environmental communities at Standing Rock and their supporters across the U.S. and around the world.

The DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) being installed between farms, as seen from 50th Avenue in New Salem, North Dakota. August 25, 2016. (Flickr Tony Webster)

After Trump’s actions, I spoke with Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who has worked on various grassroots environmental issues with tribal governments to develop indigenous-based environmental protection infrastructures. He was a key organizer at the Standing Rock protests that convinced President Obama to consider alternative pipeline routes.

Dennis Bernstein: Give us your initial response, your overview.

Tom Goldtooth: Yes, our network, which is a grassroots Native organization of frontline organizations and individuals and tribal members throughout North America, are very concerned. We’re very alarmed at how fast he has put this … insane initiative forward.

[…] We definitely are opposed to their recklessness, and the political motivation behind these kinds of fossil fuel development projects. As we know, [Trump] is invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline. And this is just a really bad step on his behalf, as a new-seated President of the United States.

He is violating existing, government to government policies between the United States and tribes, as federally recognized tribes. He never consulted… no one in his administration consulted with the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, nor any of the other federally recognized tribes, on this initiative that he is putting forward.

And so, we’re very concerned as he’s taken this executive action towards making the first step towards approving of the easement of the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Missouri River. So, you know, we’re very concerned. We had a couple calls with members in the community at Standing Rock. Some people in leadership with the Oceti Sakowin Camp, as well as many of our other supporters. So, we definitely are bringing attention to this … where’s this going to end? […]

We know that these kinds of pipelines are violating the private rights of private land owners, ranchers and farmers along that corridor, with threats of imminent domain. They were forced. It was a forced choice many of those private land owners were faced with, on these kinds of energy developments. So we’re going to see that more under this privatization initiative that Trump has put forward around jobs and economic development. But at what expense?

DB: This is about the most blatant… one of the most blatant things I’ve seen in my lifetime. But this really does continue, shall we say, Columbus’ American tradition of genocide… I mean, this is a white ruler acting on behalf of the white race. Wouldn’t you say? It has to be seen that way.

TG: It’s a continuation of those colonial policies that are at the foundation of the United States. And throughout past decades under social justice and environmental justice movement initiatives, we begin to try to unwrap these colonial policies built upon racism. And here we are. We got a president in office that is racist and, many people say, is a fascist. And so, this is just another continuing practice that we have to stop. We have to mobilize and stop this right now.

Like I said, this initiative is indicating to us, right now, that he doesn’t respect the sovereignty rights of our American Indians and our Alaskan Natives. And this decision he’s making, if he moves forward and implements this action with these executive orders, it’s going to violate the treaty rights of the Lakota/Dakota people. But where’s it going to stop? It’s going to violate, again, all of our Native rights. So, we’ve spoken out against this pipeline and the Black Snake initiative, with all these pipelines. And Trump is portraying his true self, joining forces with that darkness.

Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 13, 2016 (Flickr Fibonacci Blue)

There’s no light in his decisions. These prairie lands are very rich culturally, and environmentally, and it’s a very spiritual relationship our people have with the land. And he’s violating that, as well.

DB: It seems that all the actions at Standing Rock were, in a way, preparation for the resistance of this next level of violence. Would you say that the work that people have done will do them well, in terms of the continued resistance? And perhaps people are already thinking about that, in deep ways?

TG: Well, one of the things that many thousands of people … that have come to Oceti Sakowin Camp and the Sacred Stone Camp, at Standing Rock, have consistently said… they said, “This is a spiritual movement.” They felt that connection to the sacredness of Mother Earth. They saw that our people… both Native and non-Native, were standing in prayer, in peace.

And they saw that there is a meaning when we say “Water is life.” And there’s meaning when we say we have to recognize the sacredness of our Mother Earth. But, yet, we’re dealing with the colonial system of laws and regulations that are often violating those natural laws, as we know it, of protection of that sacredness of Mother Earth, and Father Sky.

So, that’s why we [have] definitely been opposed. And many of Trump’s comments in his election process, talking about privatization–what that means to us is the privatization of nature, of land, of water. So that it gives those rights to the corporate, private sector. They have more rights than we have.

Those corporations like Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Exxon, Chevron… they have more standing than our own first Nations, or our Native people. Whether it’s in Canada in the Tar Sands, or whether it’s right here in the prairie lands with these pipe lines. So, definitely we saw a wake up, as millions of people globally looking at what’s going on at Standing Rock. So, we’re going to utilize that movement that we’re building here.

And we’re going to see what Trump is going to do. We’re going to demand that he pull back from implementing these executive orders. Otherwise, we’re going to put that call out. There’s going to be
massive mobilization, and civil disobedience, on a scale that may never have been seen on newly seated presidents of the United States. So, we’re going to keep this movement going. This resistance is stronger now than ever before. It’s not just about Standing Rock. It’s not just about this specific pipeline. It’s about a whole system that is not sustainable. Something has to change and Trump is not going to be that leader that is going to be looking at the best interests of everyone’s future.

DB: Final question, now. The climate denialists obviously own Trump. He’s one of them. … This battle … is the cutting edge … [of] those who understand how important it is to protect the Earth and the water … [against] these fascists who put profits over everything …. The line really is drawn at these pipelines, isn’t it?

TG: It is, it is. It was that dream that that Lakota woman had years ago on this Trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline… when that dream told her that this pipeline has a darkness to it, that it’s a black snake. And that we have to, somehow, cut the head off of that snake. So the question is what do these pipelines represent? It’s like a whole system that’s clouding the reality of what we need to do. And now it has the leadership that is put into office.

So that’s why our spiritual leaders are telling people that we need to go back to a prayer. We need to go back to having ceremonies, and this is what’s going to bring in that light of understanding, of peace and compassion. And maybe that’s one reason I got that Gandhi peace award, here, you know, last year.

A graphic used by demonstrators resisting the Dakota Access pipeline.

And, there’s a link between how we as modern society and this world have separated itself from that sacredness of Mother Earth. And, we need to, as a humanity, throughout the world, including President Trump, his cabinet, Congress, and state by state, county by county, city by city, and our families, we all need to look at what’s going on.

We need to come back to understanding what our relationship is to these natural creative laws, these principles, that many land-based peoples still have, many of our Native peoples still have. And so, it’s
that critical right now. We know that the current economic system of unlimited growth is barely hanging in there, on a thread. But it’s trying to survive. At what expense, though? So it is an indigenous issue, but it’s all of people’s issue, our future children’s issue. So it’s that critical.

DB: And that Gandhian prayerful, peaceful resistance, which was really engaging the youth, that’s going to continue defining this movement as the resistance grows. You feel sure and certain of that?

TG: Yes, we gotta continue. We’ve got to continue to put our thoughts together, from our heart. Let’s link up and bring together our mind and our heart. Sometimes that’s the furthest distance that is created in these modern times. So we gotta let that heart speak up.

Compassion and prayer is very strong. It can move mountains. And so, as our Native spiritual leaders have said in these ceremonies … we have to stand there in resistance, taking action in peace and prayer. And we will continue to do that at Standing Rock, with the leadership of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, with its elders, and their youth and their women.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at

10 comments for “Trump’s Pipeline Orders Challenge Protesters

  1. Cat
    January 28, 2017 at 23:09

    Thank you for the article!
    It may seem like an overwhelming task, but keep fighting. What seems like small efforts will lead to the ending result we so greatly need.
    Pat’s dumbass statement above will result in the opposite of his intention. He is obviously so ignorant as to not know the extent of torture Native Americans have endured to get them off their horses and into cars and trucks. I know it’s reminded me of the life Native Americans had before being placed on reservations and the starvation and dependence resulting.
    My hope is your article be read by children who will go to law school and help to achieve truly “great things for the forgotten Americans”.

    Thank you again!

  2. Tristan
    January 26, 2017 at 01:38

    Thank you for the informative interview. It is good to hear directly from the people who are on the frontlines.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    January 25, 2017 at 23:05

    “Upon hearing of the annexation of the Black Hills, Henry Whipple, the government appointed chairman of the commission that was unsuccessful in obtaining consent of the Sioux to relinquish these lands and rights, said, “I know of no other instance in history where a great nation has so shamefully violated its oath.”

    “Congress elaborates with this statement and underscores the commission’s lack of power in the process:

    Our country must forever bear the disgrace and
    suffer the retribution of its wrongdoing. Our
    children’s children will tell the sad story in
    hushed tones, and wonder how their fathers dared
    so to trample on justice and trifle with God.
    (BIA, Annual Report, 1876)”


    I feel here is a chance to do something fair, and right. Western Eurpeonism has for far to long put corporate profit above all else in life. The Lakota-Dakota Nation has already been through a lot, and their way of life has been trampled on beyond insult, and ignorance towards observing the law, has been denied. I think by ignoring our captured continents indigenous people our Western culture has loss something we could have gained respect for, and possibly made improvements on our own philosophy’s of life. If our government continues to pursue any more Native American lands and break more treaties in doing it, then we Americans who critize Israel should start practicing what we preach. More energy, more jobs, will no doubt win out, but we don’t have to let it go away unchallenged. Mankind needs to wake up, and right now, this minute and everyday. I’m calling my senator, and representative.

  4. elmerfudzie
    January 25, 2017 at 21:41

    The protesters clearly have not examined the undertow, or underpinnings of this so called environmental crisis. First let me say that: As a nation we are still reeling from the consequences of JFK’s assassination. Should the fiat USD dollar suddenly explode into a worthless currency, ask yourselves an important question, does the US Government and corporate moguls have a plan B? of course they do, and it’s unannounced! This pipeline will be the life line, and will serve as an important back up to maintain critical economic infrastructure, in the (very likely) event that the Federal Reserve system, suddenly melts down. In one way or another, we still have a petro-related-dollar and this dollar has precipitously lost value due to reckless Quantitative Easing or QE policies. Uncontrolled printing will eventually result in no purchasing power, whatsoever, thus domestic oil reserves will ensure gasoline production (just to get us to the workplace and also to compensate China for debts we owe them). Three generations of American political and business leadership, have permitted a fiat paper monetary system to swell, causing ever higher levels of inflation along with global financial market insecurities . JFK had the foresight to halt our inevitable spiral into national bankruptcy by ordering the Treasury Department to issue a Silver Certificate, TRANSLATION; NO debt, Vietnam war, or Federal Reserve System but David Rockefeller was foaming at the mouth against this commodity currency printing. I reference here an article for CONSORTIUMNEWS readers. In a very real Christian sense, all of us can see for ourselves and be witness as to what the price of murder can be, even one man’s murder.

  5. pat
    January 25, 2017 at 18:01

    You are all a bunch of fools, how did you get to this place? By truck or car, it takes gasoline. all your doing is putting money into other governments pockets

    • Zachary Smith
      January 25, 2017 at 22:55

      A good question would also be which of the Big Industry sites sent you here.

      Point: an unknown amount of the unrefined product will be exported.
      Point: an unknown amount of the refined product will be exported.

      Point: have you ever heard of electric cars?
      Point: have you ever heard of how the earth is being ravaged by Climate Change?
      extra bonus question for that last one – do you have any young children or grandchildren you’d like to see having a chance to live out their lives without having to endure the utter chaos which is coming?

      Finally, supposing all of that leaves you cold, would you have any objection to the pipeline companies posting a hundred million dollar bond for the damages and cleanup expenses from their filthy oil pipelines when they inevitably leak?

    • Joe Tedesky
      January 25, 2017 at 23:39

      Tell all car manufacturers to now introduce into the market place all those secret long mileage engines immediately, by doing this now we could radically reduce our consummation usage while pushing our selves to a renewable based energy source for our future vehicles. I’m not listing any particular engines that exist as rumors and some not rumors, but put engines out there that get at the minimum 120 miles to the gallon. Fuel minimizer systems have already come and gone, for a variety of reasons to only die out.

      In fact some, maybe even more investors have profited just by presenting their prototype introduction, only to be rewarded greatly when bought out. I’m talking as far back as 1927 when a J&L chemist sold a reusable oil filter system (sealed oil pan unit with somekind of charcoal filter) allowed him to retire at a early age by selling the rights off to Standard Oil….just get Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman/Batman) to show you what he got in the corporations forgotten warehouse. It’s there, you just got to find it….but get serious and quit beating up and killing other humans to make your energy money.

      Humvee’s have a one fluid system where you can add brake fluid from the cab into the master cylinder reservoir ….this isn’t new. We have it, let’s build it. Let’s restore all land, and water, and the sky’s will follow.

      • Zachary Smith
        January 26, 2017 at 02:15

        If you and I had the resources to build a factory which would make 120mpg cars, we’d both end up losing money hand over fist. Our vehicles would be universally panned by all the reviewers. Think about how a certain national Reports magazine often includes an evaluation of the dash instruments as an Important Factor. That same magazine was caught years ago declaring the small Dodge Omni had steering problems no other reviewers could detect.

        The Government would pay unusual attention to our operations. High mileage vehicles must be aerodynamic, light, and have small engines. That’s the physics of the situation, and the consumers would latch onto the bad reviews (Unsafe! Noisy! Uncomfortable! No Acceleration!) and refuse to buy them. Some of my relatives will pick one make of car over another for issues I find to be trivial beyond belief. But it’s their money, and for the most part automobile buyers are a spoiled bunch.

        Trivial example: I have a small car with a dreadful final gear ratio. To keep up with traffic on the interstate I have to rev up the engine to the point where it gets too loud. That’s my punishment for not buying a “fancier” model If I had a master machinist to mill me another gear for 5th, I could easily get 60mpg on a flat road at 70mph. The car is relatively light, quite streamlined, and has a fairly small engine. But that option wasn’t and isn’t offered. And won’t be.

        One reason I’m getting so pessimistic about Climate Change is my growing belief that a majority of people – and not just the super-rich bastards – will not sacrifice a bit of their “choice” and “luxury”. With zero real pressure from voters, why should we expect politicians to resist Big Oil money?

        • Joe J Tedesky
          January 27, 2017 at 03:31

          Zachary in my walk in life I could get you that machinist if you had a concept design to submit for crafting. I’ve seen ideas go by the way side my whole working life. Jim Ryder back in 1977 had a tractor while pulling a trailer powered by a regular Ryder fleet Cummins pulling a full load (22 pallets) get 8 miles to the gallon when other tractors got 3mpg due to the tractors exteriors aerodynamic design….Signal Corporation who then owned Mack Truck bought it from Mr Ryder and it vanished. They looked like Tonka future vehicle models with bullet shaped cabs…everything was standard, and could purchase any where parts for the vehicle.

          There are plenty of engines. vehicle designs, and encased lube systems already owned and patented, but yes the oil companies especially get this stuff out of even serious consideration to go on our streets. These executives have no balls. or foresight to see beyond what they feel safe with…like sticking to last year’s model because people buy a lot of brakes through warranty programs sold through their dealerships.

          I’m an optimist and I think evidentially these things I mention will come. I just hope it doesn’t come when it’s to late.
          Old cars are the best…. I miss my 65 Bonneville low rider & watching the gas gage go down as I press the pedal.

  6. evelync
    January 25, 2017 at 18:00

    Thanks, Mr. Bernstein!
    Chase Iron Eyes addresses the DAP:

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