It’s unusual to see students camping out at the College of Mount Saint Vincent and, not surprisingly, the nylon tent pitched in front of Founders Hall on the school’s broad lawn has attracted a lot of attention.
That’s just what graduate students Adria Anderson and Nikki Bogan were hoping for when they took up residence there on Nov. 14. They used their living situation to spur awareness of the plight of Native Americans protesting against the planned 1,170 mile North Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Protesters say a portion of the pipeline runs too close to a Sioux Indian tribe’s burial ground and threatens Lake Oahe, a drinking water reservoir created by the damming of the Missouri River.
Ms. Anderson and Ms. Bogan pitched their tent and and stretched a large banner with the words “Peace Camp in Solidarity with Standing Rock” in front of it after returning from a three-day stay at Standing Rock, ND, where they went to support protesters and deliver donated blankets.
“Water protectors,” as Ms. Bogan said the protesters call themselves, fear possible oil leaks could contaminate the area’s water supply. “I think that our planet has been running out of water. We have not been taking care of it at all,” she said. To help emphasize her point, she and her companion have hung 8½ x 11 cloth signs that say “Water is life” and “Defend the Sacred” directly outside the tent.
Ms. Anderson and Ms. Bogan said living in the structure served to promote an event on Nov. 17 to bring awareness to their campus community about the pipeline, share what they witnessed at Standing Rock, discuss oil spills around the nation and to protest the expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline much closer to home near the Indian Point nuclear reactor — just 35 miles up the Hudson River from the northwest Bronx.
It also included guest speaker Susan Van Dolsen of Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion and a performance by hip-hop and spoken word artists The Peace Poets.
At the event, Selina Macias, a senior, said she had read about Standing Rock on social media and attended to learn more about the issue. “All I know is that this is a water source and we’re risking a lot of pollutants in the water if we drill this pipeline. It needs to stop. We need to pick the environment over money this once,” she said.
Jailine Batista, a freshman, said she is currently taking a seminar with an environmental curriculum. She came to get more information. “We are right next to the Hudson River…The Hudson River could potentially get polluted [by the Algonquin Pipeline] as well. But, I also think it’s a call of advocacy. I think we should all be advocates or informing each other. Even if we don’t live in North Dakota,” said Ms. Batista.
“When I heard what was going on, I wanted to go to Standing Rock and to stand and say, ‘I didn’t want to be a part of the problem,’” said Ms. Anderson. “I felt compelled because I do believe our Native Americans have been disenfranchised and treated poorly in this country.”
Ms. Anderson and Ms. Bogan said there are similarities between the situation at Standing Rock and its potential water contamination and the Algonquin natural gas pipeline (also known as the Spectra AIM pipeline.)
“There is a pipeline that is trying to get built at Indian Point. If it does get built near the Indian Point nuclear energy plant, it could contaminate the water here in New York so that could affect us here in Riverdale... So, not only is our water at risk but also our safety is at risk,” said Ms. Anderson.
Spectra Energy is overseeing the expansion of the natural gas line across the Indian Point property. The company expects to replace a 24-inch pipe with a 42-inch one. But elected officials and activists have called for delaying the expansion and commissioning an independent safety evaluation.
In North Dakota, Energy Transfer Partners LP, one of the main builders for the pipeline, is seeking an easement, which would allow them to continue building the $3.7 billion pipeline. Reuters reported last week that the Army Corp of Engineers delayed approval, which activists viewed as a partial victory.
The project would take oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region to Illinois, Reuters reported.
Kelcy Warren, Energy Transfer Partners’ chief executive officer, stated that he would not re-route the oil pipeline. “There’s not another way. We’re building at that location,” Warren said, according to the Associated Press.
But, he said, he was willing to meet with Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, to address their concerns about the drinking water, stated the Associated Press.
Ms. Bogan feared the election of Donald Trump to the White House, who is an investor with companies affiliated with the pipeline, would remove any restrictions to its completion.
On Nov. 21, the Associated Press reported that new tensions arose as 400 activists tried to push past a long blockaded bridge on a state highway. They were turned back by law enforcement officers who used water cannons and what appeared to be tear gas. The bridge is located near property owned by Energy Transfer Partners, where activists had set up their camp.
“City by city, block by block, we stand with Standing Rock,” said Ms. Anderson and Ms. Bogan as they prepared to give their presentation to the nearly one dozen students who came out.