This is not Standing Rock. You will not find endless tipis or a row of flags from every tribe in America. There is no caravan of 10,000 US military Veterans making vows to storm the drill pad, looking for absolution, healing, or purpose. There is a small dedicated group of people that have been fighting the tail end of the Dakota Access Pipeline for months, now called the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.
L’eau est La Vie
L’eau est La Vie resistance camp was established directly in path of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. This camp is led by four Indigenous women with the blessing of the local Indigenous people. We held ceremony here to give honor and respect to the ancestors who came before us. The land accepts us here, and everyday there are quiet moments of profound beauty. L’eau est La Vie means water is life, a battle cry we learned back home from Lakota Country.
The land accepts us here, and everyday there are quiet moments of profound beauty.
Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind this project, altered the route to bypass camp rather than to have engage in an extended fight. The fight didn’t stay at camp, it spread out along the 160 mile route of the pipeline from Lake Charles near Texas all the way to the community of St. James, a community established by free Black folks along the banks of the Mississippi.
In spring there were many Direct Actions that shut down construction of the pipeline. Some were somber prayer filled water ceremonies that led processions of Water Protectors on the easement off the pipeline. Before sunrise we would decide roles, in those quiet moments people volunteered to stand in front of the equipment, the bulldozers and excavators, in the event the workers decided not to stop. I seen people step up and in all seriousness lay their body and their life on the line to stop the pipeline.
It wasn’t all seriousness; there have been folks masked up as crawdads that performed Crawfish The Musical ™ on the pipeline itself, much to confusion of local law enforcement and pipeline security. Series of songs and performances that tried to drive home the simple fact that crawfish cannot survive in polluted waters, a fact keenly resonate with crawfishermen.
Out in the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin there have been tree-sits, occupation encampments, arial blockades, lockdowns,construction site walk ons, water blockades by kayak, and work stoppages by drone activism. We’ve thrown the kitchen sink at this pipeline.
In Louisiana most institutions are aligned with oil interests by default and the courts are no exceptions. Yet despite the built in predisposition to petroleum companies there have been mutliple lawsuits in favor of the folks fighting the pipeline. ETP’s Coastal Use Permit was denied until they create an evacuation route for St. James. There has been a ruling that water protectors have a legal right to be on the private land they have been tasked to protect by land owner Theda Wright.
Looming over all the smaller legal victories is a new Bill that increases penalties for protesting on the pipeline route to felony levels. Trespassing in Louisiana was a misdemeanor, but pipelines are now “critical infrastructure,”.. As of Aug. 1, trespassing near oil and gas pipelines in the state is now a felony offense, with a possible sentence of up to five years in prison. We were bailing people out of jail for 300 bucks, now the record for highest bail set was $61,000.00.
Since we have been effective at shutting down the pipeline construction at key points, our adversaries have been increasingly more violent and unhinged. In June of 2018 Cherri Foytlin, the Indigenous woman leading the day to day of camp was assaulted outside her home near L‘eau est La Vie. In July a fan boat driver employed by the ETP put a gun to the head of one of the Water Protectors and cracked another across the jaw with the butt of a shotgun.
In August Water Protectors kayaking in a legally protected navigable waterway were dragged by off duty correctional officers and were arrested for felony trespass. Later, a water Protector in an arial blockade was forced to the ground then tazed by law enforcement.In September four water protectors were attacked by police while on private land they had the right to be one, were choked, slammed to ground, and beaten by local police.
Recently journalist Karen Savage and Lakota activist Anne White Hat were arrested after a prayer ceremony for allegedly being on the easement. Undeterred, we went back out into the swamps and had a successful day of actions but upon returning to our vehicles we found our tires were slashed and the boat ramp stalked by shady characters. Lastly and most importantly we have credible sources that let us know someone or some people plan on killing Cherri Foytlin after this campaign is finished.
We are doing our best to be remain safe while looking out for one another and still fight the pipeline. From the Bakken Oil fields and the plains of Standing Rock, down to the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, Indigenous people are still fighting the pipeline every step of the way.