Environmental Racism and the Issue of Perspective

Over the course of this semester, I’ve decided to research and attempt to answer the question; “How are Indigenous people affected by environmental racism?”; environmental racism being the discrimination minority groups suffer from in regards to their environment, such as lack of running or clean water, exposure to hazardous waste plants or chemicals, intentional disregard of threats to public health, etc. This is a relatively new term, one that came into fruition in the 1980’s in order to describe how racism is taking a new form; by harming the environments and places that people of color live in. The reason I’ve chosen to focus so specifically into how Indigenous people suffer from environmental racism is because the United States specifically was formed on stolen and colonized land; so adding more harm to the environment that Native people now inhabit adds more salt to a very open wound. However, environmentally effective projects that affect Native people are created for many reasons, and the people that participate in these projects have their own views as well. There are many perspectives on this issue, and in order to best showcase all of them, I’ve chosen to give an example of an environmental issue rooted in racism; this particular one being the Dakota Access Pipeline. Through this example, I will show how corporations, blue collar workers, and Native People all have differing views and perspectives when it comes to the environmental racism.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was proposed to be built in 2014, “designed to transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline would be a key conduit connecting oil wells in the state’s Bakken Shale, where the development of fracking has opened billions of gallons of new oil to recovery (Explainer, http://billmoyers.com/story/need-know-dakota-access-pipeline-protest).” Not only would this pipeline be key in helping minimize the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil, but as well, it would cut transportation costs of crude oil to a minimum. Another plus to this pipeline would be that there are more job opportunities available, helping rural working class communities in middle America. The corporations involved in the creation and investment of this pipeline have a lot of money invested in projects such as the DAPL and many other potentially environmentally harmful projects. From their point of view, they are saving money and creating new jobs, benefiting not only themselves but the economy as well. This tends to be the case in almost all of the environmentally harmful projects that Indigenous people have to suffer through, because corporations believe that the pros outweigh the cons for the general public. As well, they believe that they are helping marginalized communities by creating jobs for them, to help lower rates of poverty. In their eyes, adding a factory or a pipeline will not only be positive for them, but good for the community surrounding the proposed factory/pipeline/etc.

Building off of the last paragraph, another group that plays a part in the environmental racism that Indigenous people suffer through is blue collar workers; the working class. Because corporations chose to create or fund environmentally harmful constructions, in this case the example being the Dakota Access Pipeline, they need people to build them. Blue collar workers then benefit because there are more job opportunities available and the rural towns they live in also benefit from the increase in money. While things like this pipeline and harmful waste plants hurt blue collar workers and Indigenous people health wise, they do positively impact their economies. It’s a tough spot to be, because you depend of these large corporations economically but you also are hurt by them physically and mentally.

The group that is probably most affected by environmental racism to Indigenous people is Indigenous people. Constructions like the Dakota Access Pipeline do so many things to harm Native Americans, such as “disturbing sacred sites, infringes on past treaty promises and tribal sovereignty, and is a significant danger to their water supply since it passes underneath the Missouri River — the main source of water for the reservation (Time, http://time.com/4548566/dakota-access-pipeline-standing-rock-sioux/).” One of the most important parts of this quote, is how tribal sovereignty is being infringed upon because of this environmentally racist project. Tribal sovereignty is the right for Native Americans to be recognized as their own nation, their own State with their own rules and rights, and most importantly they are allowed a government to government relationship with the United States, so they must approve all the things that the United States and these large corporations may want. However, things like this pipeline being permitted to be built goes against the idea of tribal sovereignty, not only harming the health and basic needs such as water to native people, but it also invalidates them as their own Nation. As well, Indigenous people are harmed by environmental racism at a more root level. Native Americans have constantly had their homeland and sacred sites defiled and taken away from them for centuries and have been subject to mass genocide for one purpose; taking over their home. Something so major, like the environmental racism behind the DAPL further continues the cycle of taking away Native land, harming our sacred sites, and harming us.

Overall, there are many groups that are affected and contribute to the environmental racism surrounding Indigenous people. It may not all be direct or malicious, but the fact still remains that Native people are suffering due to them. There are shifting paradigm views to this issue, and I hope to explore them more deeply in my paper.


Explainer: The Protest Against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (2016, September 09). Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://billmoyers.com/story/ne...

Dakota Access Pipeline: What to Know About the Controversy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://time.com/4548566/dakota...

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