Young Standing Rock runners call on Biden to shut down Dakota Access

The Oceti Sakowin camp on Nov. 11, 2016.

AnnaLee Yellow Hammer wore a lot of layers Tuesday as she ran along the highway on one of the coldest days of the year, her eyes peeking out from behind a full-face mask, stocking cap and hood she’d pulled over her head.

The 17-year-old vice president of the Standing Rock Youth Council was in South Dakota near McLaughlin en route to the site 50 miles north where thousands of people camped next to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline nearly five years ago.

The temperature Tuesday morning was minus 18 and barely climbed above zero as the day progressed.

“Our ancestors lived in tepees in this weather,” she said. “If they can survive, we can survive.”

Yellow Hammer was one of about 20 young members of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes who took on a milelong leg of the 93-mile relay to the site of the Oceti Sakowin camp where protesters once convened near Cannon Ball. They want the Biden administration to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses under the Missouri River just upstream from the reservation, and their run sought to draw attention to the cause.

“They’re operating illegally without all their federal permits,” she said.

Yellow Hammer was referring to the pipeline’s easement, which a federal judge revoked in July 2020 for the duration of a lengthy environmental review. An appeals court affirmed last month that the permit was rightfully rescinded. Now the permitting agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is trying to figure out its next course of action, including whether to require the pipeline to shut down.

The parties were slated to discuss the matter Wednesday at a status hearing with U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg, who has presided over Standing Rock’s lawsuit for nearly five years. But in court filings this week, the Corps asked to delay the hearing until April 9. Boasberg granted the request.

“Department of Justice personnel require time to brief the new administration officials and those officials will need sufficient time to learn the background of and familiarize themselves with this lengthy and detailed litigation,” Justice Department attorneys representing the Corps wrote in a brief.

The prospect of a shutdown has many in North Dakota on edge. The pipeline has operated since 2017 and transports as much as half of the state’s daily oil output to Illinois, allowing Bakken crude to access new markets and be more competitive with oil from the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico.

North Dakota officials and oil industry leaders say a shutdown would be a devastating blow for the oil patch, where low crude prices brought on by the coronavirus pandemic caused thousands of layoffs over the past year.

But youth from tribes fighting the pipeline, tribal leaders, activists and celebrities are organizing events, writing letters, calling the White House and posting on social media in an effort to put pressure on the Biden administration to force the line to stop operating. President Joe Biden, on his first day in office, canceled a permit for another controversial pipeline project, Keystone XL, and Dakota Access opponents are hoping for a similar move.

As Yellow Hammer ran on Tuesday, she thought about her nieces and nephew, who are babies.

“The main reason I wanted to run was for them, just to fight for them,” she said. “They’re young, and they don’t understand what’s going on.”

She made a similar run nearly five years ago — in much warmer weather — to Washington, D.C., with other Standing Rock youth. There, they met with representatives from the Corps and other federal officials, a powerful experience for the then-13-year-old and others who found their tribe at the center of one of the world’s biggest news events of 2016.

Yellow Hammer is keeping a close eye on developments out of Washington as Biden takes his first steps, which have included several executive orders aimed at curbing climate change.

“I’m very hopeful,” she said. “He wants to claim to be the climate president. I would hope he would make the right decision.”

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