There is an old Lakota Sioux prophecy regarding a black snake—an enormous one—that will scar the inhabitant’s ancestral lands. When it goes underground it will destroy the native people, and many Sioux today are pointing to the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL), a 1,200 mile oil conduit, as that legendary snake.
Construction of the pipeline began once a contract was signed by Energy Transfer Partners Sept. 22. When completed the DAPL is set to transport nearly 470,000 barrels of oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. However, the pipeline’s route runs through the Standing Rock reservation and under the Missouri River, the Sioux’s primary water source, polluting sacred Native American land in the process.
Recently, private security forces, the police and the National Guard have attempted to quell the demonstrations of the protestors. In fact, the movement is spreading beyond the reservation’s boundaries as a dozen activists were arrested in San Francisco in early November. Online followers of the protest, including our own Troy High School Warriors, have been checking in on Facebook at the DAPL protest site to show their support for the cause. The United States Army Corps of Engineers even threatened protesters with arrest if they fail to leave their camp area. Fortunately, over the past weekend, the Army Crops did not grant the permit needed to build the DAPL under the Missouri River, a decision that the Standing Rock tribe and protestors celebrated.
However, looking at the government’s longstanding rocky relationship with First Americans, it is clear that America’s lack of respect was at the root of the problem. Not only had 141 pipeline protesters been wrongfully arrested, but they were also restrained using excessive force. Despite the energy benefits that the DAPL will provide, the government’s initial response to the pipeline protests was unacceptable because it disregarded the environment and infringed upon Native American rights.
Instead of prioritizing their economic prospects, American companies should holistically consider the pipeline’s cultural and environmental impacts. Currently, the DAPL is destroying native burial grounds and prayer sites, both of which are intrinsic to the Sioux’s deep historical connection to their land. In addition, the pipeline construction is creating environmental hazards that are equally detrimental to the Sioux. The Missouri River is vital to the survival of the Sioux people, proven by their age-old saying “mni Wiconi” or “water is life.” If the pipeline were to leak, thousands of natives would be jeopardized by the contamination of their water and resources.
Moreover, pollution of the Missouri River by the DAPL heavily affects the surrounding environment. However, proponents of the pipeline argue that current transport of oil by truck or railroad causes more environmental damage than the DAPL ever will. But in reality, data from ThinkProgress reports that while train and truck accidents happen more often, pipeline breaks spill more oil overall and cause more collateral damage by contaminating groundwater and natural ecosystems. As “water protectors,” protestors of the DAPL are fighting not just for tribal rights but also for the preservation of American resources and wilderness.
All in all, our government had once again prioritized its own interests before environmental dangers and the lives of Native Americans. Historically, the American government exploited tribal lands and otherwise destroyed native culture simply to carry out its own political or economic exploitations. If the U.S. government ever wants to ease its tension with Native Americans, federal officials must begin to value the property and culture of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Though the national disrespect for Native Americans remains a rampant issue, the pipeline protests ultimately highlight the deep injustices our country has inflicted upon Native American culture.