They say history repeats itself. Unfortunately, the blatant disregard for Native American life and culture is part of our nation’s history. With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we are reminded of the brutal history behind the holiday through a present-day battle for Native land.
Around this time one year ago the Dakota Access Pipeline or DAPL was approved. It was to be a 1,134 mile-long pipeline to carry oil across multiple states. Originally set to cross through Bismarck, North Dakota, its initial path was rejected after an environmental assessment pointed out that it might endanger the water supply. Citizens of Bismarck, whose population is listed as 92% White on the U.S. census, rejected the pipeline and it was rerouted.
Fast forward to the DAPL’s new route, and a similar concern has been brought forth. This time, the pipeline could threaten the Missouri River, the sole water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. In addition, the construction of the pipeline disrupts and has even destroyed lands sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. However, the rerouting of the pipeline is an option that has not been offered to the tribe. Activist Rev. Jesse Jackson calls the situation “the ripest case of environmental racism I’ve seen in a long time.”
Since the pipeline does not technically run through the reservation, the Sioux Tribe has been shut out of decision-making about the DAPL route. This act, however, is illegal. According to The Atlantic, “Regulations require Federal agencies to consult with Native American tribes when they attach religious and cultural significance to a historic property regardless of the location of that property.” Because Army Corps did not consult the tribe, they are also in danger of violating the Clean Water Act as well as the Environmental Policy Act if the water supply were to ever be contaminated by a break or leak in the pipeline.
Still, the Army Corps fails to hear out the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. They insist the pipeline is what is best, as it will create construction jobs that will benefit the economy. Just the same as their forefathers did centuries ago, they are attempting to silence indigenous people by projecting their own ideas of what is best for them.
Once again, non-Natives have decided how they will occupy land that remains sacred to Native Americans. Once again this is being done with no regard to the needs or wants of indigenous people. Once again, non-Natives have defended their actions with the assertion that they are doing what is right for the Native community, while neglecting input from the people, themselves, stating otherwise. Unquestionably, water is essential to life. A boost in the economy will mean nothing to a community without a reliable water source. With the tribe’s sole source of water being compromised, Native American tribes and non-Native advocates from all over the United States have gathered at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest the pipeline.
The peaceful protests began around April of this year and the number of protesters continues to grow. However, over the course of seven months, the peaceful protesters have become targets of militarized counter forces. Shortly after peaceful demonstrations began, the National Guard was sent out to Standing Rock in riot gear in massive numbers. Protestors tell the Huffington Post “law enforcement is using pepper spray, tear gas and beanbag rounds on [us] and responding to peaceful demonstrations, pipe ceremonies and prayer circles with militarized force.”
Mass numbers of arrests have been made. Some of the protestors who have been arrested report being kept in chained, netted enclosures similar to dog kennels, and having numbers drawn on their body parts by law enforcement officers.
The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault Jr., spoke out on the damage being done by both the construction of the pipeline and the law enforcement protecting it, saying, “The oil companies and the government of the United States have failed to respect our sovereign rights. …[They have] knowingly destroyed sacred sites and our ancestral graves with bulldozers. [They have] also used attack dogs to harm individuals who tried to protect our water and sacred sites.”
Some media outlets are choosing to defend the dehumanizing actions of these officers. The New York Times recently published an article that attempted to evoke sympathy for the officers out in Standing Rock. It focused on one officer in particular, Jon Moll. The Times gave details completely unrelated to the pipeline or the protests. It mentioned how Moll grew up as the only White child in his classes and, as the son of farmers, “worked hard for everything [he has].” The irony lies in the fact that after growing up in a diverse environment and seemingly understanding the work that goes into building and keeping up with a community, he is now infringing on that right of others as he takes away what they too worked hard for. Moll goes on to vilify activists, who he says, in their protesting, have trespassed on federal property. He omits law enforcement’s recent vehicular destruction of sacred Native American burial sites out of his trespassing rant.
Instead of publishing this article defending the initiators of this battle, the Times could have focused on alternatives to the current route of the DAPL. One such alternative is an oil railway. Railways are already used for the majority of North Dakota’s oil shipment and one was used in the past as an alternative to the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Though a slightly different method than that used in the past, the construction of this pipeline endangers a mass population of indigenous people. The seriousness of its threats must be understood, and it is time to listen to the people most affected by its construction.
Dominique is a Hotline Crisis Services Specialist at the Action Alliance as well as an Intern for the Real Story journalism internship. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and a B.A. in African American Studies. She is an aspiring filmmaker and loves to create as well as watch others’ creations on the big screen.
The Real Story Internship analyzes and rewrites news stories to reflect a trauma-informed, survivor-centered and racial justice lens.
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