Around 1,500 miles separate Rochester and the Standing Rock Sioux encampment meant to block construction of a section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline near the nation's North Dakota reservation.
But the distance isn't stopping Rochesterians from joining the fight. They've organized events, such as last Saturday's Water for Life rally, to draw attention to the pipeline and to urge people to advocate against it. And local pipeline opponents, including Luc Watelet and Lisa Giudici, traveled to North Dakota to join the protest.
"It's time that governments and corporations hear the voice of the people who are concerned about what's going on, instead of imposing their will on them," Watelet says.
The Seneca Nation of Indians and the Tonawanda Seneca Nation of the Haudenosaunee sent letters of support to the Standing Rock Sioux, emphasizing the nation's fight to protect the earth. The Standing Rock reservation was established in an 1868 treaty with the US government.
Once completed, the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline would carry around 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota to a shipping hub in Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline would come within a half-mile of the Standing Rock reservation.
Dave Archambault II, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, says that the pipeline project has destroyed Lakota and Dakota burial sites — a charge denied by Energy Transfer, the company building the pipeline.
The tribe also says that federal agencies failed to adequately consult with the Standing Rock nation before approving the pipeline.
For the Standing Rock Sioux, the fight is also about protecting the Missouri River, which provides water for the reservation as well as for wildlife and millions of other people in the pipeline's path. The Sioux worry that the pipeline will leak or spill and poison the water.
"The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are fighting for our lives, our people, and our sacred places," Archambault says.
Local environmental and climate activists see parallels between the Standing Rock nation's struggle and their battles against fossil fuel pipelines, storage facilities, and power plants in New York. The projects threaten communities' air and water, and in the past the state has approved them despite substantial opposition, they say.
Any pipeline project takes the country in the wrong direction on climate change, and on the country's commitment to the rest of the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the local groups say. And the Dakota Access Pipeline will transport Bakken oil, the same volatile crude that passes through Rochester on trains, from wells in North Dakota to Chicago. When the trains derail – which they do with troubling frequency – they tend to burst into flames.
"We are talking about the same oil, the same risks," says Sue Hughes-Smith, who heads a Mothers Out Front committee that's pushing federal elected representatives for a ban on oil trains.This article has been edited to clarify a figure.