Monday, November 19, 2018
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Bayou Bridge Pipeline Opponents Employ Direct Action to Block Construction

Interview with Anne White Hat, an indigenous woman from the Pine Ridge reservation, living in Louisiana, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

For months, a battle has been raging in the bayous of coastal Louisiana to stop construction of an oil pipeline by Energy Transfer Partners, or ETP. That’s the same company that built the Dakota Access Pipeline, which inspired thousands of indigenous activists from North and South America and their allies to set up camps in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s efforts to stop that pipeline. In 2017, President Trump cleared the way for the pipeline to be completed. The Bayou Bridge pipeline is literally the tail of the Dakota Access pipeline snake, as it would bring highly toxic, flammable oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to the Gulf Coast via an existing connector pipeline.
Indigenous activists and their allies have set up L’eau Est la Vie camp – or “water is life” in French – and have been carrying out non-violent direct action protests, including tree-sitting activists in the path of the pipeline and bird-dogging the company’s construction through lands seized by eminent domain.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Anne White Hat, a Lakota woman from the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, who moved with her family to coastal Louisiana eight years ago. White Hat, who has been involved in the campaign to stop the Bayou Bridge pipeline, describes opponents’ direct action tactics and the response of the pipeline company and local police.

ANNE WHITE HAT: Folks have been out here on the front lines, battling the heat and the mosquitos and snakes in the swamp and stopping this pipeline for over 30 days. And it’s very rural, I’m not even going to say rural, it’s remote. It’s so stunning and absolutely beautiful but it’s remote so it’s very difficult to get any signals out there for cell phone reception and wifi and things like that. We have set up a small camp. The nonprofit called Louisiana Rise owns 11 acres of property that we bought last year, and we set up the camp on this 11 acres. And the campaign really changes weekly, almost daily sometimes, and especially with House Bill 727, which is now called Act 692, which basically criminalizes nonviolent direct action against the Bayou Bridge pipeline on certain easements of construction. So it’s been heating up and the strategies have been changing. And the abuse and the oppression has definitely kept up as well, so there’s a lot going on in that regard as well.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I heard that three of the water protections were snatched out of their canoes in public waters and arrested. Is that right, and what happened to them?

ANNE WHITE HAT: Yeah, three of our friends were really violently abducted, basically. I saw the raw video footage. When you see it, you see people being abducted. You see people who are clearly being asked to identify themselves and are not identifying themselves as being from any agency, basically pulling our friends out of their canoes and their kayaks, and putting them on these fan boats and restraining their hands behind their backs and then they came up to the land – to the island there, it’s kind of an island all surrounded by the bayous. And then they brought them out, pulled them out of the boat, forced them to walk on the land and then forced them to walk over to the easement, and then they made them wait there while they called the St. Martinsville Parish police station. So those folks came out there and arrested them for being on the easement.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So who grabbed the three kayakers? Private security?

ANNE WHITE HAT: It’s Department of Corrections personnel who are moonlighting as security officers, as we can gather. So that happened. They were taken into custody and charged with felonies under this new law. Then yesterday we had three water protectors and a journalist who were arrested on another property that’s owned by a family called the Wrights. There are seven sisters, the Wright Sisters. And they’ve never signed an agreement with Energy Transfer Partners to allow them to come onto their land out there in the bayous and the swamps of the Achafalaya Basin. They’ve give folks permission to occupy that land, and be on that land to protect their land against this company that’s coming in and using eminent domain and using this law that was brought on by ALEC to criminalize nonviolent direct action.

BETWEEN THE LINES: ALEC being the American Legislative Exchange Council, which provides model right-wing legislation to state governments.

ANNE WHITE HAT: ETP continued to do construction in the face of all of this happening with our friends getting arrested. They’ve already cleared a path, a 75-foot wide corridor down the length of her property. They’ve begun to dig a trench. So, it’s precarious. Things are happening out there. We need support. We need eyes on the ground; we need folks to come out here and witness what’s going on, document this, and help us stop this pipeline and protect our water. It’s just irreparable harm that’s going to be happening here; it’s not ever going to be the same.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Besides the local people, what other kind of support do you have?

ANNE WHITE HAT: We’re working within a really broad coalition in Louisiana who are doing all levels around the issue. I would say the work that we’re doing is more the direct action and front line work. We have folks working on legislative levels, policy levels, a divestment issue, the whole realm of organizing. There are lawsuits in place right now; there are hearings coming up this fall so we’re hoping to halt as much construction as we can until the hearings happen this fall. They’re supposed to stop construction now, but these are some permit hearings that are happening again.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What’s the status of the pipeline through the St. James community, which is a historic African American community right along the pipeline, which as far as I know still does not have an escape route in case of disaster.

ANNE WHITE HAT: One of the requirements for the permitting process is that they provide the free community of St. James with an evacuation route. That’s one of the things we’re fighting for, for them to have a way out.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, if the judge sticks to the conditions, even if the pipeline is completely finished, it can’t operate until it provides an escape route for them?

ANNE WHITE HAT: Correct.

For more information on the Stop The Bayou Bridge Pipeline, visit nobbp.orgor email resist@nobbp.org.

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