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Tuazon shelters gallery installation
Tuazon shelters gallery installation

Shelters, Exhibition view, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

CAROLINE GAIMARI — What is happening at Standing Rock, the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp where the Cannonball and Missouri rivers meet in North Dakota?

OSCAR TUAZON — It’s an organized action to stop the continuation of the Dakota Access Pipeline. There were two proposed pipelines routes: one to the north, which would avoid the water of the Missouri River, but pass near the city of Bismarck. The current route chosen by Energy Transfer Partners was diverted around Bismarck and directly under the Missouri at a point on the treaty lands of the Standing Rock Sioux. The Native Americans objected to it from the very beginning, in 2014. The ETP has gone ahead with the plans, backed by the Bismarck police force via the Army Corps of Engineers, which are supporting this oil pipeline that would go under the Missouri River — which drains all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. This river provides water for drinking and farming for 18 million people. The idea of putting an oil pipeline under that is unacceptable, especially when it goes through sovereign tribal land. The broader issue here is maintaining the treaties that have been established and are in the process of being broken, and respecting the sovereignty of these tribal nations.

CAROLINE GAIMARI — This situation is also putting the question of clean drinking water at the forefront.

OSCAR TUAZON — Yes. Instead of providing the infrastructure for people to have clean drinking water in cities, our government is putting its resources behind oil companies, or becoming an oil company. We can’t trust big oil to essentially determine what clean drinking is going to be for the rest of us. So far, they have a terrible record, with hundreds of burst pipelines all over the country.

CAROLINE GAIMARI — The main fear is that the pipelines will burst?

OSCAR TUAZON — It’s not a fear! It’s now basically a fact. In California, just up the coast above Malibu, at Refugio State Beach, there was a pipeline that burst offshore and polluted sea birds and destroyed beach environments all the way down to San Diego. That was two years ago. Environmental regulations in the US are already pretty low to begin with, so there is not too much stopping these projects. In regards to North Dakota, at this time of exceptionally low gas prices, it’s obvious that this pipeline is not needed. There is already an over-production of oil on the market.

CAROLINE GAIMARI — Tell me about your first trip to Standing Rock.

OSCAR TUAZON — I went there first at the end of September. I had a couple of days during a break from a teaching assignment in Washington to go over there and volunteer. At that point, things were already heating up; there had already been 40 arrests, and this was after the Labor Day attacks with the German shepherds being sicced on protestors. The pipeline was a little bit further back from the camp. People were chaining themselves to the construction equipment and getting arrested. While I was there, we did a direct action with about 100 cars. We left camp and drove through the pipeline area and managed to shut down the work on the pipeline that day. At that point, there were 2,000 or 3,000 at the camp, and now it’s over 10,000.

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