Native Americans are suffering yet another grave injustice. This time, the Federal Government is planning to run Dakota Access pipeline across the Standing Rock Sioux, which could threaten the environment and desecrate sacred Native American lands.
“The government may well have a legal right to build this pipeline, but there are many reasons why this does not sound like a good idea right now,” said Dr. Campion, Director of the Global Studies Program and an Associate Professor of Sociology.
The Energy Transfer Partners planned to construct a pipeline that “would carry more than 400,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken and Three Forks production regions of North Dakota.” The pipeline would run for “1,172 miles, passing through South Dakota and Iowa before connecting with an existing pipeline in Patoka, Ill,” according to Los Angeles Times.
Dr. Douglas Asofi, professor of History, mentioned that the developers’ plan was to build the pipeline quick enough so that after the construction of the pipeline was completed, they could apologize later. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, “Energy Transfer Partners says construction of the Dakota Access pipeline across the four states is 60% complete,” as of three weeks ago. However, “A federal judge ruled Friday against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction on the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline.” District Judge James E. Boasberg ordered the construction of the pipeline to be halted, at least “until the Army Corps of Engineers can revisit its previous decisions in the disputed portion,” according to The Washington Post. However, this temporarily blocking of construction is not a certainty that construction of the pipeline would stop completely. In fact, the possibility of the pipeline being constructed sparked an uproar among the Native American community, provoking a protest.
This issue sparked Native American tribes from all over the country, according to Dr. Astofi. It is not only affecting Native American tribes in America, but also all over the world. In fact, according to New York Times, there were 280 Native American tribes gathered and camped out to protest in North Dakota. The tribes travelled from “across the Plains and the Mountain West, from places like California, Florida, Peru and New Zealand. They are Oglala Lakota, Navajo, Seneca, Onondaga and Anishinaabe. Their names include Keeyana Yellowman, Peter Owl Boy, Santana Running Bear and Darre ll Holy Eagle,” reported New York Times.
The protest in North Dakota seemed to get rather violent, with both police officials, accompanied by ravishing dogs, and protestors getting aggressive. “Four security guards and two guard dogs were injured after protesters confronted construction crews on Saturday at the site outside of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. One security officer was hospitalized with undisclosed injuries, and the two guard dogs were taken to a Bismarck veterinary clinic, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey,” reported Time. “Protesters said six people were bitten by the guard dogs, including a young child, and at least 30 people were pepper sprayed, tribe spokesman Steve Sitting Bear said, the Associated Press reported. Preskey said police officers had no reports of injuries.”
However, not all of the protest is violent. The protest can be seen as a gathering where tribes commune, showcase, and celebrate one another’s cultures, while protesting in an effort to stop the construction on a pipeline that can be detrimental. At OcetiSakowin camp, a protest site, a tribal Hawaiian indigenous leader Pau Cae, who “heads the movement to protect Mauna Kea, a sacred Mountain on the Big Island of Hawaii,” and her companions traveled from Hawaii to stand in harmony with Native Americans at Standing Rock, according to a video by Sacred Stone Camp.
Pau Cae said, according to a video by Sacred Stone Camp, “Thank you very much for taking us from the mountain, putting us at your fire. And we are humbled to here and to be of service. We are family to you and we come forward to tell you that from Hawaii we love you,” after dancing with her tribe in a traditional dance over the grounds.
However, regardless of if this protest is violent or peaceful, the threat of harming the environment is also fueling protest.
“One of the main problems is a lack of understanding between companies who want to profit from access to Native American lands and the Native Americans who oppose the intrusion. In this current situation the proposal is to run the pipeline underneath the river. This poses serious environmental hazards,” said Dr. Parker, Associate Professor of History and Chair of Social Sciences.
The construction of pipeline raises concerns because pipelines are known to rupture and water supply is likely to be polluted, affecting the “river upstream of Sioux reservation,” according to Dr. Campion. In fact, according to a Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) report that spans over a 20-year period (specifically for the years 2002 to 2015), there were high reported rates ranging from 233 to 336 significant pipeline incidents each year. And just recently the Environmental Protection Agency was at fault for accidentally dumping millions of gallons of pollutants into the Animas River in Colorado, transforming the once pristine river into an “orange-yellowish slush,” according to CNN. This halted the tourism industry that the river generated from recreational activities.
“With climate change now a pressing issue, the use of fossil fuels has gained a lot of criticism. Another pipeline seems at odds with President Obama’s efforts to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and to promote energy conservation as well as the use of green energy. It is sending the wrong environmental message,” said Dr. Campion.
The environmental concerns seem rather universal, stemming to both Native Americans tribes and Environmental groups who are opposing the construction of the pipeline. Los Angeles Times reports that both groups, the Environmental and the Native Americans, are rather vocal on their desire for “the United States to transition to renewable energy instead of building more infrastructure to support fossil fuels.”
“While not all Americans agree with Native Americans’ arguments against the pipeline based on environmental concerns, at least Americans are familiar with this argument and can understand these environmental concerns – at least on the surface,” said Dr. Parker.
The Native Americans also argue that the pipeline would discrete the sacred burial lands and ancestral sites that it is planned to run across. Many Americans understand why the environment is a concern, but do not understand why the sacred Native American lands are.
“What Americans cannot understand is the continuous Native American argument about the sacred nature of their ancestral lands and their spiritual connection to the land. Americans have no way to relate to this as there is no spiritual attachment to the land in American culture,” said Dr. Parker. “So when Native Americans make the argument in spiritual terms – a very real and important aspect of their fight against corporate or government intrusion on their lands, Americans cannot relate to this reasoning and trivialize Native American Opposition to initiatives such as running this pipeline. There are cultural and historical barriers between Native Americans and Americans and there has not yet been created a cultural language that enables a discussion of these issues in a wat that can promote a real understanding between the opposing sides.”
This lack of understanding from Americans forces the Native Americans to be continually discriminated against. Native Americans are at the bottom of the totem pole in America at times because it seems not many people choose not to see their spiritual beliefs as valid. Some may consider their belief as not practical. As a result, Native Americans tend to be the target of discrimination in America.
“Native American tribes have undergone relentless discrimination and abuse from the American government, most notably land dispossession and mass displacement to reservations in the 19th century,” said Dr. Patricia Campion.
This discrimination of Native Americans, like other minorities in the United States, has lasted for an extended period time in history. In fact, there are many cases in which Native Americans were discriminated; not only were Native Americans were frequently forced to move from their own lands as Dr. Campion mentioned, but Native Americans have also been unjustly murdered at the hands of Americans in the past. An example of this was in 1980 when the US army massacred hundreds of Native Americans (Sioux) on Wounded Knee on the Pine Wood Reservation in South Dakota.
This injustice in the past, which forced this minority to live a harsher life, has held the Native Americans back and it is evident in today’s time. “To this day, Native Americans show higher rates of poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, and lower rates of education and average income, than any other racial group in the country. Some efforts have been made in recent decades to address the situation, but progress is slow and uneven,” said Dr . Campion.
The government, which should ensure the protection, justice, and equality for all citizens, constantly discriminates against minorities, in this case, the Native Americans. With Native Americans being mistreated in the past, the discrimination still persists, and it is evident in the proposed pipeline that threatens to desecrate the scared Native American lands.
According to Dr. Parker, “the issue of proposals to run pipelines through Native American lands is not a new issue. This is a constantly recurring issue. So the question is not really, ‘why is this happening now,’ the question is, ‘why is it always continuing to happen?’”
Native Americans have dealt with a lot of discrimination in the past, and most of it has been swept under the rug. However, the internet allows for a spotlight to be placed on issues via outlets such as social media, videos, and news articles.
“One thing that has changed greatly, however, is that we live in an era when people are willing to fight for their identity and their heritage, be they African American, gay, Native American, or something else. So it is no wonder that the resistance to the pipeline has been strong,” said Dr. Campion.
This congregation of so many different Native American tribes may have been the deciding factor for the postponement of the pipeline’s construction.
“The federal government appears not to respect part of its own population by not respecting their environment and beliefs,” said Dr. Campion. “Let’s imagine that the government was trying to bulldoze a historic church to let the pipeline through. I’m quite sure there would be quite an uproar at the desecration of a holy place. Why should it be any different with Native American sacred land?”
The protest also captured the attention of President Barack Obama. In fact, Obama was campaigning for the Native American votes, vowing “that his administration would pay special attention to their grievances about federal mismanagement and the government’s recurring neglect of treaty obligations,” according to the New York Times.
New York Times also reported that at “his eighth and final White House Tribal Nations Conference, an annual summit meeting of Indian leaders he instituted,” Obama “received praise for actually delivering on his pledge in multiple ways, including the announcement of $492 million in lawsuit settlements with 17 American Indian tribes for alleged federal mismanagement of their funds and lands. The government holds more than 100,000 leases to manage about 56 million acres of tribal lands rich in mining, timber and oil resources that have historically been exploited at the tribes’ expense.”
These settlements are the most recent. One of the major settlements of recent years was settled in 2009, according to New York Times. This case was 13 years long, ending with the administration “agreeing to pay $3.4 billion in compensation for federal mishandling of hundreds of thousands of land trust accounts.” New York Times reported that there are even tribal cases, “more than 100 tribal claims, some of them a century old, at a cost of more than $3.3 billion” that the administration is attempting to resolve, according to New York Times.
Although the spiritual belief of Native Americans and overprotection over sacred lands may seem bizarre or rather impractical for others, this social media age allows for the entire population to feel connected to one another, allowing people to feel empathic towards other opinions and causes. Therefore, if the pipeline somehow is under construction again, maybe others can get behind and support the Native Americans based solely on their beliefs and fight this issue alongside each other as if the issue was their own.