Local pipeline activist calls North Dakota a ‘rallying cry’
Jason White, of Mansfield, has made the protection of a tribal water source in North Dakota his personal cause.
Originally from Columbia Cross Roads, White, 32, and his brother, Joshua, now of Dover, Delaware, are among the protesters who have braved frigid North Dakota weather as part of an effort to stop a controversial oil pipeline from being constructed under a lake.
He and his brother were in the Sacred Stone camp, which he said is more like a village, on private land owned by a native woman, LaDonna Allard.
The married father of three, two in Mansfield and an older daughter who lives in Morton County, South Dakota, said he had been watching the increasing tragedy happening around the world over the summer and fall, but with the birth of his daughter in October, he made the decision with his wife, that he had to do something “to make a better world for his kids.”
“I saw the treatment of natives here, and my wife and I agreed this was not the world we wanted for our children. … “ White said in an earlier interview.
A carpenter by trade, White now is working on contracting jobs here, but plans to return to the Sacred Stone camp, where some 3,000 people remain trying to survive in harsh winter conditions to keep fighting against the “black snake” as they refer to an oil pipeline that has been routed under a river that feeds a water reservoir for the Sioux people there.
White said he is determined not to stop fighting the pipeline until the fossil fuel industry is defeated.
The corporations behind the Dakota Access pipeline made it clear that they “fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe.”
“For me, this is also something that was happening in my daughter’s backyard,” he said, noting that was a big reason he went to join in the protest.
In December, White said he returned to Mansfield to be with his family, including his oldest daughter, and also met with members of the St. James Episcopal Church, who made his first trip to North Dakota possible, he said.
“They donated money and cold weather gear so I went to thank them and give them an update,” White said.
“I talked about how the media and government have figured out how to use hope as a weapon,” he said.
A large encampment in southern North Dakota swelled to thousands of opponents of the four-state, $3.8 billion project over the summer, and then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued an emergency declaration in August to cover law enforcement expenses related to protests. There have been nearly 600 arrests in the region since August, but the encampment has shrunk since Dec. 4, when the Army said study is needed on alternative locations for the pipeline to cross a Missouri River reservoir, as well as study on the potential for a leak and tribal treaty rights.
The Standing Rock Sioux and its supporters believe the project, which is to carry North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois, threatens drinking water and Native American cultural sites, which Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners denies.
According to White, people are under the impression that the easement has been denied when it has only been suspended.
After his talk, White said one of the parishioners came up to him and said hearing that was like a “punch in a gut because he thought it was over. He thought it was just a media trick to make us stop paying attention to it.”
White said that those who still are camped at Standing Stone are staying through the winter because they “know that the fight is not over, so to keep the movement alive and be able to respond to the Trump presidency.”
“Energy Transfer Partners is confident that once the new president is in office it is a green light and they will be able to start drilling under the river. They (protesters) want to be out there to peacefully put themselves in the way and try to stop it,” White added.
White said he is trying to coordinate with a couple of Episcopal churches together to go back out there and build a half pole barn to shelter fire wood and serve as an emergency shelter.
“We also want to put in solar panels, to be part of the eco village that is being planned,” he added.
White noted that some of the protesters have been there “since the beginning.”
“They have committed themselves for spiritual reasons to stay until the “black snake” is dead and the project is over and done,” he added.
“There is always going to be a presence, with a permanent community. A lot of them are from North Dakota so they are used to the weather,” he said.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has asked people to leave in concern for their safety, but all their tents are heavily insulated, White said.
There also are some semi-permanent structures in place, but even so conditions remain harsh.
“The other day it was negative 50 degrees with the wind chill,” White said.
People of all ages, from young children to people right out of college, up to elders are still there, he added.
“There are still some families with kids. A family from Colorado has left their home in Colorado to be part of the eco village with their kids,” White said.
While he is in Florida, White said he would check in with the Sabal Trail pipeline actions in Florida, and a water protector camp and “see what I can learn and do to help.”
After he takes supplies out to North Dakota, White said he would come back to Pennsylvania to check on the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline going in near Lancaster.
“That pipeline is going right by Knoebels (Amusement Resort),” he said.
There is a Lancaster group that has built a wooden structure in the path of the proposed pipeline that is not occupied right now, White said.
“What a lot of us are doing now is kind of like what they did in the Revolutionary War. The winter and cold weather months are spent planning for what we are going to do in the spring, summer and fall,” he said.
“So we are gearing up; this could be a new age of activism. We know for the next four years our government isn’t going to be taking action on climate change. People are using Standing Rock as a rallying cry to fight pipelines everywhere,” he added, noting there are 13 pipeline protests are happening around the country and more in South and Central America.
“It is already becoming a global movement where people are protesting pipelines around the world,” White said.
While in Florida, White said he will give a presentation to The Free Thinkers Society in Tallahassee about the activism in North Dakota.
“The Tallahassee people want to support Standing Rock, but I am directing people to support the protests in their own states,” he said. “If enough of us stand together and care, we really can win, and if we can stop the fossil fuel industry we can make our country anything we want it to be,” White said.