Amherst residents rally against Dakota pipeline in water ceremony outside TD Bank

By Hayley Johnson

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(Erica Lowenkron/ Daily Collegian)

(Erica Lowenkron/ Daily Collegian)

Close to 200 students and activists participated in a water ceremony outside of TD Bank in Amherst Center on Monday afternoon in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Around 15 University of Massachusetts students gathered at the Student Union before noon and marched together to meet the other protesters at TD Bank for the ceremony.

The event was held despite the United States Army Corps of Engineers announcing that it would not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline on Sunday.

The ceremony, organized by Climate Action Now, began and ended with a song: “The people going to rise like the water, all colors all creeds. I hear the voice of my great grand-daughter, singing ‘Mni Wiconi.’”

Susan Theberge, an organizer of the ceremony and member of Climate Action Now, was pleased with the turnout of the event.

“We organized this in a very short amount of time and it was snowing and it was cold and then there was news yesterday that the Army Corps of Engineers is going to find another route,” Theberge said. “So there were a lot of changing circumstances and unexpected things like the snow, so we were really happy.”

The water ceremony, organized by Jenny Caron, consisted of praying for water, incense being lit and people pouring the water they brought into a circle of flowers outside of TD Bank.

The Facebook page created for the event asked that people wear blue and bring water with them to show support for the water protectors in North Dakota. People were also encouraged to close their accounts with TD Bank to show opposition to companies supporting the pipeline.

“I’m new to doing a lot of activism, I haven’t done a lot. But partly, the election was a big reason,” said Robin Roblee-Strauss, who will be a Hampshire College student next spring. “I’m for a lot of causes but I don’t do much and I wanted to get out there and support … I definitely don’t support these huge corporations taking advantage of people … particularly Native Americans and indigenous land.”

“I think it’s important to show our solidarity with the first people of this nation and this land and the pipeline that is being proposed to go under the Missouri River is on sacred land and can cause problems with the drinking water of the people there,” said Donna McCallum, an Amherst resident.

“I was of course very happy to hear the Army Corps of Engineers is following through on their support of statements,” said Claudia Rullman, a Leverett resident and local for 28 years. “Energy Transfer Partners needed to stop construction and that there needed to be an environmental impact statement and that there needed to be engagement with the tribal people out there about their sacred lands.”

Though Rullman was happy with the announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers decided to change to route of the pipeline, she is not completely satisfied with what that means for the future.

“I am glad that they’re continuing to be supportive, however, I couldn’t help thinking of the Keystone Pipeline, which was cancelled and then just moved over a little bit and renamed Dakota Access Pipeline,” Rullman said. “The story is never over. The pipeline construction companies have little sections of pipeline all over the U.S. and that’s why they don’t have to file a formal permit request. We need to remain vigilant; this is not a done deal. It’s an ongoing human struggle.”

“I think as a young person it’s really easy to feel, for me, much in despair about the times that we are growing up in and learning to love a world as it’s being destroyed … so doing things like this, to me, is a way of direct hope,” said Dineen O’Rourke, a Hampshire College student and Climate Action Now organizer.

“We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground in order to keep climate change from spiraling out of control and we only have a short time to do it,” Theberge said. “Even the basic science about climate change and the research that’s been done and the models that we’ve seen, the pattern seems to be that … things are happening faster than we expected. So we really can’t afford to take any more fossil fuels out of the ground. We are already struggling to maintain a habitable planet as is. We were able to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline here, we know it’s possible to do it, but it happens when there’s massive numbers of people and there’s sustained resistance over time.”

Theberge added: “We, Climate Action Now, love working with students and we have a lot of students that work with us. We have students in leadership of the organization and so we would really encourage people to get involved.”

Hayley Johnson can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @hayleyk_johnson.