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Infrastructure Otherwise Report 001, Mapping a Many Headed Hydra: The Struggle Over the Dakota Access Pipeline (2017). Text by Katie Mazer, Research by Katie Mazer and Martin Danyluk, Photographs by Charmaine Chua and Madison Van Oort, Design and layout by Elise Hunchuck (2016-2017).

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Mapping a many headed hydra from 2003 through 2017. Prepared by Katie Mazer, Martin Danyluk, and Elise Hunchuck (2017).

Mapping a Many Headed Hydra:  The Struggle Over the Dakota Access Pipeline

An excerpt from Katie Mazer’s text “Mapping a Many Headed Hydra,” an Infrastructure Otherwise Report, designed by Elise Hunchuck:

“By highlighting some of the networks surrounding the DAPL and the struggle at Standing Rock, this report illustrates that the Dakota Access is fundamentally transnational not only for its entrenchment in transnational networks of infrastructure, commodity flows, and finance, but also in a much more basic way. This transnationalism is manifest through the local, international, and global ecologies on which we all rely and which are at stake in the expansion of this and other pipeline infrastructure. It is clear in the geographies of Indigenous territories and assertions of Indigenous sovereignty that defy and supersede the international boundaries of Canada and the United States through which the pipeline passes. And it is perhaps most evident in the social infrastructures and solidarity efforts that have coalesced around the fight at Standing Rock. Importantly, this social infrastructure has been built on the acknowledgement that the ecological and social geographies that surround the site are in no way contained to the site itself. That is, the continental geographies of North American energy infrastructure are apparent not just in the threats posed by the pipeline and the ongoing expansion of petro-capitalism, but also in the strategies employed by industry and in communities’ responses.

This analysis and the title of this report are inspired by the work of radical historians Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh. In their riveting history of the rebellious Atlantic, these authors invoke the metaphor of Hercules and the Hydra to describe the unruly commoners—slaves, sailors, labourers, and others—who rebelled, together, against brutal conditions of exploitation and their enrolment in the colonial expansion of North America. As the authors explain, the Hercules-Hydra myth was commonly used by rulers to convey the challenge of imposing order and discipline on this globalizing system of labour. While transatlantic networks of trade and exploitation were assembled to serve the interests of empire, these networks also built social connections and common cause amongst the exploited and dispossessed, allowing commoners to join together in rebellion across spatial distance and social difference. To the rulers, the Hydra represented this seemingly mutable mass of variously dispossessed peoples: near impossible to slay, when one of her many heads was severed, new ones would grow in its place. In this way, transnational networks of resistance haunted the expanding geographies of global capitalism.

This is precisely the type of dynamism that runs through contemporary North American pipeline politics. From the pipeline pushers, this is evident in the ever-changing geographies of industry’s expansion plans and the fragmentation of approval processes so as to obscure these networks. But these continental networks are reflected right back in the transnational and organizing tactics that communities are using to stop this growing network of pipe.

Finally, the situation with North American energy infrastructure is changing quickly, and increasingly so under the Trump administration. This report is not intended to be a real-time account.[9] Rather, by contextualizing the Dakota Access Pipeline within the broader social and spatial relations of North American oil pipeline politics, our aim is to propose some tools to support ongoing analysis and the broader efforts to protect waters and lands against the seemingly incessant expansion of North American extractivism.”

Mapping a Many Headed Hydra is freely available online as a PDF courtesy Infrastructure Otherwise.

Thank you to Deborah Cowen and Katie Mazer for the invitation to work on such a timely and important project.