US military veterans who backed Native American tribes in protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the Standing Rock Sioux water source may be headed to Michigan next, where the city of Flint is still dealing with lead in the water.
The Army Corps of Engineers announced on Sunday that it would not approve the easement allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to be built under Lake Oahe, the primary water source of the Standing Rock Nation. The decision came after months of protests, and followed the arrival of some 4,500 US veterans to join the protesters at the Oceti Sakowin camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Among the veterans at the camp was Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is currently a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
“Water is life; we cannot survive without it,” Gabbard said after the Army Corps of Engineers announced its decision. “Whether it’s the threat to essential water sources in this region, lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, the potential threat posed to our water by the Red Hill fuel storage facility on Oʻahu, or the many other threats to our water across our nation, we must act now to protect our precious water for current and future generations to come.”
Wesley Clark Junior, son of the former NATO commander in Europe and himself a former Army officer, helped organize the veterans who came to Standing Rock.
“We don’t know when we are going to be there but we will be heading to Flint,” Clark told the Flint Journal. “This problem is all over the country. It’s got to be more than veterans. People have been treated wrong in this country for a long time.”
Elevated levels of lead were found in Flint’s water supply in 2015, after the emergency managers of the debt-ridden city decided to save money by using the Flint River as a water source. Corrosive metals in the river water caused lead to leach from the old pipes and into the drinking water supply. The problem was discovered in 2015, but the local, state and federal authorities took months to act.
So far, out of the 40,000 inhabited homes in Flint, about 550 have had their pipes replaced, according to the Flint Journal. An estimated 564 people have been arrested over the course of Standing Rock protests, which began in April 2016.
George F. Grundy II, a Flint resident and Marine Corps veteran, told the paper he was touched by the level of support for his hometown among the Dakota “water protectors.”
“These are people who have been just as oppressed and in some other forms more oppressed than black folks and to hear these people speak the name of Flint and know that Flint is in duress too and say that we are in their prayers that just does a lot to me,” Grundy said.