Encircling a long black replica of a pipeline, hundreds of protesters gathered in De la Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara on Saturday to stand in solidarity and call for a halt to the construction of the four-sate Dakota Access Pipeline project.
The demonstrators, a great many of them Chumash leaders and elders, stood together to support the members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is trying to stop the 1,700-mile oil pipeline crossing North Dakota en route to the Gulf Coast.
With the breeze carrying the smell of sage, more than 200 opponents of the pipeline converged for prayer, singing and dancing in the downtown courtyard. Members of the Santa Barbara Standing Rock Coalition organized the more than two-hour long demonstration.
“We are here to reclaim our responsibility and authority as human beings to take care of our Mother Earth,” said Marcus Lopez, chairman of the Barbareno Chumash Tribal Council. “We are given the responsibility to look after our world, and let us unite together. We are grateful for the people in Standing Rock who are the example to lead the world in awareness.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Army stepped in to halt further work on the pipeline temporarily on Friday. The announcement came after a U.S. District Court judge denied Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request to temporary stop the Texas-based company.
If completed, the pipeline would move 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Montana and North Dakota to an existing pipeline in Illinois, and then on to the Gulf Coast.
Since April, thousands of nonviolent activists and Native Americans from across the United States have gathered at the site of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers, on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, to make a stand against the $3.8 billion pipeline.
A delegation of Chumash Indians, including Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation members, have traveled to help Standing Rock Sioux in their battle, said Michael Cordero, a Chumash elder and former vice chair of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation.
“There are over 200 native tribes, as well as numerous native and non-native organization, supporting Standing Rock,” Cordero said. “They and we have come together because we understand the truth — water is life. We helped delivered supplies stand in solitary with them.”
Cordero discussed how the pipeline would extend within Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands, and could potentially dump or leak crude oil into rivers the tribe depends on for water.
He said the Dakota Access Pipeline is an opportunity to bring attention to the environmental damage in Santa Barbara’s backyard.
Citing the 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel and the 24-inch oil pipeline rupture that occurred near Refugio State Beach in 2015, he questioned the safety of oil pipelines.
“Imagine if the oil spill in Santa Barbara had fouled our drinking water,” Cordero said. “An oil spill impacting drinking water becomes a distinct possibility but for indigenous people this is more than about protecting drinking water.”
He said this movement is significant in part because of the efforts of the Native American’s who say their rights and ancient sacred sites have been threatened and disturbed.
“It is also about the responsibility government agencies have to respect a tribe’s right to consultations before planning a project on the historical homeland,” Cordero said. “It is about acknowledging that tribes have sacred places and burial grounds that they have a right to protect and defend.”
Peggy Oki, a Carpinteria artist and activist, was among the speakers who addressed the crowd. She acknowledged the bravery of protesters who crossed onto private property in North Dakota and were attacked by private security guards using dogs and pepper spray.
“They tried to stop bulldozers from desecrating their sacred burial grounds, and they were met with vicious attacks,” Oki said. “The people at Standing Rock are united with nonviolence and prayer.”
She argued that the pipeline represents a major public health and safety risk as well as an ecological threat. The potential contamination of local water is central to the group’s concern, as the pipeline path would run under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s primary source of irrigation and drinking water.
“Environmental disruption of the land is outright shameful and unacceptable,” Oki said. “Santa Barbara knows too well about the environmental catastrophes caused by oil spills. Spills release toxic chemicals into soil, waterways and air.”
Some protesters waved signs, “#NoDAPL,” and many chanted “water is life.”
The crowd roared in support and approval after multiple speakers, including Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Cathy Murillo, chairwoman of the Sierra Club Santa Barbara Katie Davis, UCSB Professor of Sociology John Foran, and lead organizer for Our Revolution Santa Barbara County Grace Feldmann.
The demonstration featured a performance by Native American flute player Emiliano Campobello and Aztec dancers in ceremonial dress danced to drums, closing the rally.
Attendees also signed a petition to city council members calling on them to make a statement of solidarity with the activist.
Santa Barbara Standing Rock Coalition member Mariah Brennan encouraged “anyone who breathes air and drinks water” to get involved in the movement.
“We forget about our Earth and continue to forget about the people who we have systematically been erased, silenced and murdered for generations,” Brennan said. “The big issue is extraction. It’s removal of the land, culture and labor. Fight extraction, find your voice and your people.”