Here they are journeying through the rain.
Photo: Fintan Mason (Courtesy of Seeding Sovereignty)

Many think that the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in the Midwest is long over. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

On September 1, a group of 30 landowners, farmers, environmentalists, and indigenous peoples under the banner First Nation Farmer-Climate Unity March set out by foot on a 90-mile journey from Des Moines, Iowa, to Fort Dodge, Iowa. The march is, in part, an effort to raise awareness about the ongoing legal battles landowners in Iowa face against the 1,172-mile long crude oil pipeline. They plan to arrive at their destination Saturday.

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A 2016 lawsuit challenging the Iowa Utilities Board’s permit granting eminent domain to developer Energy Transfer Partners is heading to the Supreme Court of Iowa later this month. A group of landowners and environmental organizations like the Sierra Club are arguing that eminent domain shouldn’t have been used to take private land for this pipeline. The hope is that the judge’s final ruling would require it to move elsewhere.

“We feel that first nation people and farmers have a much closer connection to the Earth and that we need to be listened to when we talk about environmental disasters and climate change,” said Christine Nobiss, the director of the Iowa Land Decolonization Project for Seeding Sovereignty, an indigenous group that helped organize the march.

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Pipeline opponents worry about the impact oil spills can have on the land, especially farmland. This march aims to highlight these concerns and heighten the public interest in the ongoing lawsuit.

“Every day they’re having community events, inviting people in to talk about the activities and the issues,” said Pam Mackey Taylor, the acting director for the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, to Earther.

The marchers—some of who are as young as three—are praying and smudging as make their way through rural Iowa on gravel roads past endless cornfields. They’ve been camping out in community centers, churches, and parks at night. The journey’s been a wet one with torrential rains, but that hasn’t killed the spirit, said Nobiss, who’s marching, too.

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The marchers stand before a tipi.
Photo: Matthew Lone Bear (Courtesy of Seeding Sovereignty)

“People are pretty determined to do this march,” she told Earther. “They’re not letting [the rain] get them down.”

At the height of the controversy over this pipeline in 2016, runs and walks were nonstop. A youth-led run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., for instance, helped throw the issue into the national spotlight.

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This latest march isn’t just about the Dakota Access Pipeline, though. It’s about health and safety—and that means protecting the land that produces the state’s food. Iowa is the top pork-producing state in the country, and that title comes with a lot of waste, which residents sued over last year.

Activists want to see the state prioritize a more sustainable food production model. A truck full of locally grown food is accompanying the group, offering mostly vegetarian fare.

The colorful food truck.
Photo: Christine Nobiss (Courtesy of Seeding Sovereignty)

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Dakota Access has been operating since June 2017, but the fight to stop oil from flowing through it has continued. Another lawsuit involving the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes is moving along. And last week, the Army Corps failed to review a permit a federal judge ruled violated the National Environmental Policy Act, prompting further criticism.

“A federal judge declared the DAPL permits to be illegal and ordered the Corps to take a fresh look at the risks of an oil spill and the impacts to the Tribe and its Treaty rights,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith, Jr., in a press release. “That is not what the Army Corps did. Instead, we got a cynical and one-sided document designed to paper over mistakes, not address the Tribe’s legitimate concerns.”

Tribes now plan to take further legal action. As for the walkers, they’ll conclude by meeting up with their local Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice March that’s part of the national action sweeping the nation Saturday. Looks like the battle’s got a long way to go.

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