This U.S. Army veteran and Louisiana resident protested against a pipeline being built in North Dakota. Now she’s bringing the fight back to her home state.

This U.S. Army veteran and Louisiana resident protested against a pipeline being built in North Dakota. Now she’s bringing the fight back to her home state.

Capt. Adrienne Lahtela, of LaPlace, made the pilgrimage to Standing Rock, North Dakota, in December to show solidarity in the protests by the Lakota tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline. She got involved in the movement because she wanted to see first-hand what was happening at Standing Rock.

“I wanted to stand up for people who do not always have someone standing up for them,” she said.

Lahtela said she was upset by the violent action she saw against American Indians.

“I watched on TV as the water cannons were fired and I wanted to go up there and see for myself if this was an escalation of force,” she said.

In Standing Rock

Four people made the trip. Three of them, including Lahtela, were part of an organization called Louisiana Veterans for Standing Rock. They were the only members who were able to go to North Dakota. Their fourth companion was a reporter with Vice magazine.

As soon as they arrived, Lahtela set up her tent to immediately prepare for an incoming blizzard. As the team leader, she brought all-weather tents. Having once lived in Winnipeg, Canada, she knew what to expect.

“While I was setting up my tent, word spread that the permit had been denied. I saw celebration rather than conflict. There was a sacred fire and a lot of chanting. Overall it was a great experience,” she said.

They spent three days there.

Indeed, the Army Corps of Engineers has denied a permit for construction of the section of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Stating it would threaten fresh water sources for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of Lakota Indians.

Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock tribal chairman, made a celebratory but cautious statement as pipeline construction was halted. He touched on the fact that, historically, there have been many broken agreements and treaties when it comes to infrastructure development in American Indian country.

“We are not opposed to energy independence, economic development, or national security concerns, but we must ensure that these decisions are made with the considerations of our indigenous peoples,” he said.

Some protestors have decided to remain posted at Standing Rock. They cited Archambault’s cautionary attitude and fear that incoming President Donald Trump may undo the decision to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Closeer to home

Back in Louisiana, Lahtela is moving forward to protect land threatened by the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.

At first, she planned to stay up north due to assist in the wake of the drinking water emergency in Michigan.

“I considered going to Flint, Michigan, but I think we are going to have a big fight in Louisiana. I’m gearing up to see what I can do to help,” she said.

The same company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline wants to build a 162-mile pipeline cutting through the Atchafalaya Basin and 11 Louisiana parishes.

According to the joint permit application for work submitted to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Office of Coastal Management and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the pipeline would pass through Calcasieu Jefferson Davis, Acadia, Vermilion, Lafayette, Iberia, St. Martin, Iberville, Ascension, Assumption, and St. James parishes.

Dakota Access LLC is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners. It is responsible for building what will be a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter oil pipeline. The oil would travel from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to an oil tank farm in Illinois. From there, it would travel to Nederland, Texas, where it would then be transported, via a just-completed pipeline, to Lake Charles, Louisiana.

This Bayou Bridge Pipeline, connecting the oilfields of North Dakota and Louisiana's refineries and ports, would be a 24-inch diameter, 162-mile long oil transport, crossing eight Louisiana watersheds (Lower Calcasieu, Mermentau, Vermilion, Bayou Teche, Atchafalaya, Lower Grand, West Central Louisiana Coastal, and East Central Louisiana Coastal).

Dean Wilson, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, wants to make sure oil and gas exploration is done in a responsible manner which does not destroy natural assets like the Atchafalaya Basin. He said the Bayou Bridge Pipeline will be placed alongside an existing pipeline, widening a right of way already out of compliance with its permits.

Lahtela said the watershed areas affected by the Bayou Bridge Pipeline are nature centers for Louisianans. She and other activists are working to ensure these areas are protected and treated responsibly during infrastructure development projects.

Aside from being nature centers, livelihoods will be impacted if the pipeline is built. Wilson said Basin crawfishermen face the threat of increased silt from spoil banks, which interferes with the natural flow of water, destroying crawfish habitat and causing other ecological impacts.

“It’s not over for Standing Rock, by any means, and it’s not over for anywhere, really. Everyone is at risk. The movement is not done,” Lahtela said.

She is proud of the veterans who made the trip to Standing Rock and are moving forward to other human and environmental issues.

“I think it’s important that we stand up for what’s right,” she said.