On Tuesday evening, demonstrators chanted “The Rock Stands with Standing Rock” and “Water is Life” to drivers passing by the Charlotte Amalie waterfront in an effort to convince the U.S. government to end construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Held on the front steps of the Ron de Lugo Federal Building, the local event drew a dozen supporters and was one of more than 200 demonstrations that took place across the U.S. mainland to protest the building of the pipeline through the ancestral lands of North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
“We’re helping defend the sacred,” said Lynn DeLaney, who helped organize the local event. “The same thing could happen here and it’s likely our voices would not be heard either.”
According to DeLaney, 300 indigenous tribes came together in an unprecedented act of solidarity to stand against corporate interests and to implore the Obama administration and President-elect Donald Trump to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. More than 30 organizations, including Greenpeace, Honor the Earth, and the Indigenous Environmental Network, participated in the day of action.
The St. Thomas Stands with Standing Rock group decided to frame the event as a vigil with candles and signs, rather than have a regular protest given the current political climate in the mainland.
Indigenous groups have called the pipeline a threat to Native American sovereignty and a blow to climate change action. The Standing Rock Sioux want to prevent the pipeline from going under Lake Oahe – their source of fresh water – and through their sacred lands.
On Monday the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior delayed making the decision about allowing the pipe to go under Lake Oahe. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is concerned about pollution in their waters and on their lands.
“This is more than an indigenous rights issue; it’s also an environmental issue for the four states that depend on the lake for fresh water – the pipe could contaminate it,” DeLaney said.
Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, said the construction is 85 percent complete and the only left work to do in North Dakota is the section that would run under the lake. The pipeline’s purpose is to transport oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota to other parts of the country.
Nia Hazell, a fellow for the global grassroots climate change activism organization known as 350.org, organized the local demonstration through Facebook with the help of DeLaney.
“I posted some informational about the pipeline to see if there was any interest in doing an event here and a number of people responded to me,” Hazell said.
Among the demonstrators were Leah Trotman and Kayla Rivers, who both said it was important for the Virgin Islands to stand in solidarity with indigenous people.
“It’s monumental for us to all come together to raise awareness and fight this injustice,” Trotman said.
Jason Budsan, president of Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, said he hosted a demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline in conjunction with 350.org about two months ago in Estate Mandahl.
“Standing with Standing Rock is important, because we need to move to renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and it’s inexcusable to see ancestral lands continuously trampled on like this,” Budsan explained.
Budsan continued that in time the pipeline would also affect the Virgin Islands. “We are at sea level and climate change and sea level rise is not going away – we can’t let corporations dictate if and when we address this mounting issue.”