Alaska Natives protesting Dakota Access pipeline share mixed views on oil

Demonstrators in downtown Anchorage protest the Dakota Access pipeline (photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska Public Media)
Demonstrators in downtown Anchorage protest the Dakota Access pipeline (photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska Public Media)

About 60 demonstrators, including many Alaska Native people, gathered in downtown Anchorage Saturday afternoon to sing, dance and carry signs. They were there to support North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their fight against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

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The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is afraid the pipeline could contaminate their water; the developer claims the pipeline is the safest way to carry the oil. The tribe’s protests have gained national attention.

Late last week, the Obama administration paused the development of the pipeline following the tribe’s protests.

The demonstrators in Anchorage said the pipeline developer isn’t listening to the Standing Rock Sioux’s voices. But because oil is such a big part of Alaska’s economy, some demonstrators also said protesting the North Dakota pipeline wasn’t as simple as being for or against oil.

Kelli Reed organized the demonstration.

“This demonstration is not opposed to oil,” said Reed. “Oil production on the North Slope has been very beneficial for Native Alaskans who live up there. However, what we are objecting to is a silencing of the voice of a people called the Lakota Sioux.”

Gregory Nothstine, a member of the Native Village of Wales, said he supports the Standing Rock Sioux because he feels Native rights are often ignored. But he’s okay with oil development if its done responsibly.

“Being for or against the oil pipelines here in Alaska? They’ve been providing revenues for our state for years,” Nothstine said.

Ada Coyle and her daughter Ashley Doctolero were at the demonstration wearing traditional regalia of the Kodiak Island’s Sugpiaq people. Coyle said protecting water should be the number one priority.

“You can’t drink or eat money, but the water is there,” said Coyle. “We need it to drink, we need it to cook with, shower with, to cleanse us, you know?”