GREAT BARRINGTON — They are two different pipelines of vastly different size. But a recent influx of Native American activists from the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline resistance are making a connection with a much smaller project underway in Otis State Forest. And now, so is a local attorney who spent a week working at the legal tent at the Standing Rock, North Dakota entrenchment that began last year.
“I was at Standing Rock during the week of the water cannon,” said Great Barrington-based lawyer Kathleen Jackson, referring to one police tactic used to disperse protesters who were trying to stop a 1,172-mile crude oil transmission line from going through significant areas of tribal land and a water source.
She said she had spent a week taking depositions from people who had been injured by the water cannon, flash grenades and bites from pipeline security force dogs.So when she heard that two Lakota Sioux men from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation — among other Native Americans — had come to Massachusetts to draw attention to Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s 13-mile Connecticut Expansion Project, she said she would help.
“I know what it takes to come here,” Jackson told The Eagle. “They’re not working because they’re activists, and they don’t have a lot of money.”
Jackson had come to Southern Berkshire District Court on Thursday for an arraignment stemming from another set of arrests in the state forest Saturday. She said she is not representing Sugar Shack Alliance members, however.
In what has become an almost weekly summer routine, 22 protesters from Sugar Shack Alliance were arrested, this time for throwing down picnic blankets on pipeline company work easements and off-limits access roads on state forest land.
The land is protected by Article 97 of the state constitution, but after a court battle last year, Tennessee Gas won a two-mile easement through the state forest.
It was this that sparked the most outrage over the company’s tri-state natural gas storage loop, a third line in a corridor with two existing pipelines.
The Kinder Morgan subsidiary says there is a need for this gas in New England, mostly in Connecticut. Opposition groups say those gas projections have changed, and aren’t what they were when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved this pipeline last year.
The Saturday arrests bring the total since early May to 54 for trespassing charges, that in every case, the state has dropped to civil offenses akin to a parking ticket.
And never has this courtroom seen so much levity since the activists have been passing through it, eager to spread their message, however serious. They say every pipeline is connected to every other pipeline as they add to what they say is the increasing use of the “necessity defense” in pipeline trespassing cases.
“I wanted to see the judge,” said one happy, but disappointed activist, waiving her arraignment papers as she left the courthouse.
Judge Paul Vrabel hadn’t even been seated yet when the assistant court clerk announced their hearing date and moved on.
A civil responsibility hearing for these eight activists is set for Sept. 26.
“People ask why I’m getting arrested now that I’m retired,” said Catherine Woolner, 66, on the courthouse steps. “Why are we delaying renewables?”
She said the reason was for corporate profits and shareholder benefits.
Sugar Shack members say they will not stop their cycle of resistance over this pipeline, despite a relentless company work schedule that is moving the work toward a fall completion.
“It’s just the beginning,” said Steven Botkin, who also was arrested Saturday.
And Sugar Shack members might have company for a change. At Saturday’s protests in Sandisfield, The Eagle spoke with Antoine American Horse and Alvin Grassrope, two Standing Rock Sioux men who have come to “work” resisting this pipeline.
American Horse said they were “here for the long haul.” And one of those arrested Saturday, who will be arraigned in the next several weeks, was Micah Carpenter-Lott, 24, of Wyoming, who a Sugar Shack member said was a member of the Northern Arapahoe Tribe and had also been to Standing Rock.
Jackson said, for many reasons, she will continue to help pipeline resisters.
“When I heard about what was going on at Standing Rock, I was just so moved,” she said. “It is a quintessential metaphor and reality for what parts of human kind are insisting on doing.”