2400 N. Belden DePaul University, Lincoln Park 60614
Margaret Potts, co-founder of People Over Pipelines organization spoke at DePaul University Lincoln Park the organization's mission to bring awareness to the Native Americans who are protesting the Dakota Access Pipelines.
"I'm humbled that I am standing here," Potts said. "There are many people who have been fighting for this issue longer than I have."
Potts, talk focused on the idea that the pipeline is an example of environmental racism. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri area, Potts who was teaching in Pine Ridge area North Dakota, was approached by Standing Rock native who believed that as a non-native, white person Potts could use her connections to help bring attention to the issue.
The $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline project by the U.S. Army of Engineers aims to carry oil 1,172 miles from North Dakota to pipelines in Illinois. Native Americans at Standing Rock Reservation have been protesting because the pipeline paths will cross into their sacred lands.
Potts said that movement gained momentum through social media. Recently, hundreds of millions of people checked in to the Standing Rock location on Facebook using the hashtag #nodapl in support of the protest. The United Nations condemned the project, Amnesty International, and 200 plus tribes have already supported the protests.
Environmental protesters and police have clashed. In November hundreds of protesters occupied the area where the pipeline would cross the river near the reservation. Potts talked about two journalists who have received felonies and are facing 45 year prison sentence for covering the pipeline protest.
The goal of the protesters is to get the Obama administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reroute the pipeline project away from the native lands.
One legal question that students asked was whether it was legal for the government to take people's lands for its purposes. Potts cited the 1888 passage of the Condemnation Act, which authorizes federal government to take private property for public use. The law was amended in 1906 to now authorized 'seize of private property' even it it only benefits private parties such as corporations. The argument being the private land helps the public through economic development.
Supporters of the pipeline says it is and investment that will create 8,000 to 12,000 local jobs during construction. Opponents wonder what will happen after construction ends.
Potts cited 'man camps', where outside workers are brought in as labor on projects like the pipeline leaving out local communities. In the Standing Rock community more than 86% of people are unemployed.
According to court documents, between 2014 and 2016 the Army Corps of Engineers contacted the Standing Rock Sioux more than a dozen times to discuss the pipeline route. The tribe failed to respond in time.