Water is Life

“Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money” -Cree Proverb
Trump signs executive orders on Keystone and Dakota pipelines. credit: CNBC

Two and a half years and $3.68 billion dollars later, the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline is approved with the flick of President Trump’s wrist. With this action, the past and present oppression of Indigenous people is blatantly overlooked. The long, violent, and exhausting fight is not over; activists refuse to back down and are willing to endure whatever law enforcement and the Energy Transfer Partners threaten them with. Motivated by years of unsolicited hardships, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe will stop at nothing to defend their people, water, and land.

Fighting against oppression to protect the sanctity of their sacred land and guarantee access to water, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Jenni Monet says in her article, Climate Justice Meets Racism, that “The social problems, many tribal residents say, began when treaties were broken and ancestral lands were lost to colonizers” (Monet, 2016). On April 29, 1868, the tribe and United States government signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie which granted the tribe sole use of their land. While the pipeline does not cross their reservation, it does pass through sacred sites, Native burial grounds, and it interrupts the tribe’s connection with the Earth. These areas are glorified by the tribe and there is a chance they could be ruined forever if they are destroyed or tainted during construction. Natives are taught to love, honor, and respect the Earth and value their connections with every living thing. Interfering with this connection is disrespectful not only to the tribe, but also to their beliefs and culture. Throughout history, Americans have taken advantage of the indigenous people and their land numerous times. In Taté Walker’s article, 3 Things You Need to Know About Indigenous Efforts Against the Dakota Access Pipeline we are reminded that, “Native people have always been the collateral damage of a growing nation; our deaths are an acceptable risk in the face of capital gain” (Walker, 2016). This quote reveals that Americans have valued money and power over Native lives since we entered their land and began our nation. Members of the tribe refuse to let the greed of the Energy Transfer Partners weaken the connection to their land.

“Fear of racism, it’s alive and well in the Dakotas… and today it’s even gotten worse because of our political leaders” -Arvol Looking Horse spiritual leader.

To be deprived of such a basic necessity such as water based solely on the community’s ethnic group and socioeconomic status is a clear example of environmental racism. The tribe coincidentally inhabits North Dakota’s poorest county, Sioux County, resulting in limited access to resources needed to fight a battle as crucial as this and resources needed to recover from an unprecedented oil spill. Ramon Jacobs-Shaw argues in his article What Standing Rock Teaches Us About Environmental Racism and Justice that “The risk of even a minor oil spill in vulnerable areas along a pipeline’s path could be catastrophic for the communities affected, especially those located along waterways. Many Indigenous tribes are reliant on water sources to support their livelihood” (Jacobs-Shaw, 2017). This is a hazard to their environment because about 30,0000 barrels of crude oil spill yearly from pipelines, with just one barrel spilled in Lake Oahe the tribe would have no access to clean water. The pipeline was originally set to pass through Bismarck, a city in North Dakota that is predominantly white and rich, residents of Bismarck refused the pipeline and it was quickly re-routed to the Standing Rock Reservation.

Protesters feel that they were manipulated by the government and Energy Transfer Partners throughout the whole ordeal. Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota thinks they were avoiding the situation by prolonging it, he says, “For months, the Obama administration has politically stalled a legally permitted project that had already been through an exhaustive review process and has twice been upheld by the federal courts” (Doug Burgum). This delay exhausted the resources of the state and created a dangerous environment for both the law enforcement and protesters. The United States Army Corps of Engineers inadequately communicated with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The tribe’s chairman David Archambault sent a letter in August of 2015 expressing his irritation that he was not informed sooner concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Sioux Nation was not involved in the planning process whatsoever, leaving them utterly confused and more defensive when construction began.

Standing Rock: Pipeline turns dogs loose on water protecters, maces them. Credit: Censored News

Although some legislators believe that Dakota Access Pipeline protesters are unjustifiably violent, they are unaware of the way the police officers treat these protesters. Protests have been ferocious, many protesters and officers were injured over the past few months. Caroline Grueskin states in her article 26 DAPL protesters seriously injured in tense standoff with police that, “It was the most tense conflict between law enforcement and opponents of the 1,168-mile crude oil pipeline in weeks, and led to at least 26 serious injuries among protesters, according to a camp medical group, and one officer was reportedly hit in the head with a rock” (Grueskin, 2016). Both the protesters and police are using unnecessary and extreme methods to try to end the protest. Officers brought out “guard dogs” at the protest lines that bit and injured many protesters, reminding us of when the English first came to the United States and stole Native American land. During this time, colonials used vicious Spanish hounds that were trained to attack and kill the Natives. Reminding Natives of the vicious stories, officers used this tactic to show who has had the upper hand throughout American history. Whether it was intentional or not, using dogs against protesters reveals the maltreatment indigenous people have endured since Americans first stepped foot on their land. Filled with passion and determination, activists refuse to surrender even when they are at their breaking point.

Credit: Bismarck Tribune

After being mistreated during protests, activists are suffering with criminal charges. Because protesters refuse to surrender, law enforcement will do what is necessary to progress the construction of the pipeline. Shelley Connor states in her article Police, National Guard raid Dakota Access pipeline protest camp, arrest 76 that “With assistance from the National Guard, police raided a protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota near the Dakota Access Pipeline site on February 1, evicting and arresting seventy-six protesters opposed to the completion of the pipeline” (Connor, 2017). During this raid, officers used bulldozers, military vehicles, and sound cannons to force them out of their camps. William Lajeunesse says in his article on Fox News, “A 17-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy were burned after protesters set fire to the last remnants of the camp. They both required medical attention and one was airlifted to Minneapolis because her injuries were severe” (Lajeunesse, 2017). Law enforcement describes these protesters as “rogue” in order to justify their severe actions and unreasonable arrests. When assessing the protests, it is clear that both the officers and protesters reached the extremity of violence. Because of the DAPL protest, bills were filed in 16 states with Republican legislators that will toughen penalties against any protesters. Mitch Smith and Michael Wines say in their article, Across the Country, a Republican Push to Rein In Protesters that “‘These laws are clearly designed to abridge the right of the people to lawful assembly’ Worth Bishop said. He called the proposals ‘intimidation from the right,’ saying there was scant demand for the measures from the police” (Smith and Wines, 2017). If passed, these laws will make it virtually impossible to protest.

After years of suffering with unremitting oppression, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is determined and persistent and we must be too! There are many ways to support the Dakota Access Pipeline from your home. By simply using hashtags, you can help to spread the word about the severity of the situation. #TakeTheMeeting is used to prompt President Trump to meeting with the tribal leaders after they asked several times. #ConsentNotConsultation requires that tribes agree to what is occurring on their land. #NativeNationsRise asks all Indigenous Nations to rise with Standing Rock to protect their homes. Donating to the tribe provides them with more access to the necessities they need to end this battle. A fundraiser was created to aid the 700 plus activists that are facing criminal cases and the 6 that are facing federal charges. If you are willing to get your hands dirty for a good cause there are public events and peaceful protests that occur occasionally, visit www.NoDAPL.life for more information. Brenda Whitebull, of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says, “We’re going to continue our ancestors fight for many of years for our sovereignty and it’s our duty to continue that legacy.” It is not too late; the long, treacherous journey is not over!

Works Cited

  1. Monet, J. (2016, September 24). Climate Justice Meets Racism: This Moment at Standing Rock Was Decades in the Making. Retrieved from https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/politics/climate-justice-meets-racism-this-moment-at-standing-rock-was-decades-in-the-making/
  2. Walker, T. (2016, September 6). 3 Things You Need to Know About Indigenous Efforts Against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/09/dakota-access-pipeline/
  3. Jacobs-Shaw, R. (2017, April 17). What Standing Rock Teaches Us About Environmental Racism and Justice. Health Affairs. Retrieved from http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/04/17/what-standing-rock-teaches-us-about-environmental-racism-and-justice/
  4. Grueskin, C. (2016, November 21). 26 DAPL protesters seriously injured in tense standoff with the police. INFORUM. Retrieved from http://www.inforum.com/news/4163612-26-dapl-protesters-seriously-injured-tense-standoff-police
  5. Connor, S. (2017, February 03). Police, National Guard raid Dakota Access pipeline protest camp, arrest 76. Retrieved from https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/03/dapl-f03.html
  6. Lajeunesse, W. (2017, February 23). Dakota pipeline camp raided after protesters defy deadline, refuse to leave. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/02/23/dakota-pipeline-camp-raided-after-protesters-defy-deadline-refuse-to-leave.html
  7. Smith, M., & Wines, M. (2017, March 02). Across the Country, a Republican Push to Rein In Protesters. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/02/us/when-does-protest-cross-a-line-some-states-aim-to-toughen-laws.html?_r=1
  8. Port, R. (2016, December 15). In First Public Message as Governor Doug Burgum Says Build DAPL. Retrieved from https://www.sayanythingblog.com/entry/first-public-message-governor-doug-burgum-says-build-dapl/
  9. Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=42
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