Early Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the easement permit for construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline would be denied, temporarily halting construction by Energy Transfer Partners. The corps will now perform an environmental impact statement in the coming months, though President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will present inevitable challenges to environmental protection, specifically for the DAPL. In the wake of the permit denial, many of us will ask: Is this the end of the DAPL? And, frankly, how can we doing anything about it, 1,000 miles away in Ann Arbor?
I’m a graduate student at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and a graduate student instructor for the Honors Program. Since September, I’ve been co-producing a feature documentary film called “Standing Ground” on the DAPL with director Raviv Ullman and producers Martin Spanjers and Jordan Harkins. Each of us are unaffiliated with the Standing Rock Sioux; however, we gained support from more than 800 individuals on Kickstarter to help us cover the DAPL protest on film. My responsibilities include managing research projects, summarizing environmental policies, sourcing interviews and relaying newsworthy updates. But, despite all the time I’ve spent devoted to the DAPL documentary this semester, I freely admit: I’ve never even been to Standing Rock or set foot in North Dakota.
At Michigan, many of us are informed by the books we read, people we talk to and the geographic location we live in. Some of us spend our days in lab mixing solvents and others pore over Excel spreadsheets; but no matter what we’re doing, the time we have on our hands right now can be just as impactful outside the classroom as inside it.
We have no shortage of students devoted to their studies, well deserving of the “Leaders and the Best” moniker. Similar to my peers, the time I’ve spent on the documentary has been productive, but has incurred costs: I’ve gotten more Bs and Cs this semester than ever, I average five to six hours of sleep most nights, and lately, I’ve forgone most solid food in favor of Soylent because I’m too busy to cook.
However, I’ve also been one of the first people outside Standing Rock to see the footage of water cannons being sprayed at protesters and share it with the world. I’ve connected with artists, Congress members and activists; I’ve written fact-checks to the Los Angeles Times, learned how to treat mace in the eyes (use milk) and inquired at least once about purchasing “drone insurance” (yes, it exists). So, when the Army Corps released its statement on Sunday, despite being cautiously optimistic, for the first time, I got to share the taste of a small victory along with many others, but more specifically, a victory belonging to the tribes.
Over the next six to 18 months, the predicted time period for the Army Corps’ Enivronmental Impact Statement to take place on the DAPL, consider your potential role — not just on this issue, necessarily, but in the context of the world. Dropping out of school is reserved for geniuses beginning their tech startup. Maybe instead, consider dropping your six-week internship to do something you’re actually called to do. My roommate’s father — a Michigan alum — once built a sailboat in the 1970s to travel around the world over summer break. He later became successful as a financial adviser. My point is that one’s “professional” identity is not one’s main identity — and that’s the reason why I am doing what I’m doing now. It is increasingly apparent that students feel pressure to find a job and a set of skills, or else they will lose out on something, when in fact, it might be the opposite. The Army Corps’ Enivornmental Impact Statement may or may not be favorable to the Standing Rock Sioux, and whether you are for the pipeline or against it, what is important is that no one stands complacent.
Chase Stone is a second year graduate student at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.