By Euro Wang
They were pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, hosed with water cannons, and shot with rubber bullets. But perhaps worst of all, their First Amendment right to protest has been denied by the government.
This may sound like the African American fight for equality in the 50’s and 60’s, or the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, or even the Indian movement for freedom from British colonization. However, this violence unraveled very recently in North Dakota, where the government is trying to shut down protests near the Missouri River.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.7 billion project whose goal is to build a 1,172 mile long pipeline to transport shale oil. This endeavor presents many problems, all of which the government is willing to overlook for the simple financial gain that can be found in oil. After the pipeline was green-lighted in July of this year, many activists and Native American tribes have started a blockade of the pipeline. With new government directions to stop the blockade of the pipeline, it is important to note that the negative implications of this project far outweigh the positive; hence, the pipeline construction must either be stopped or re-routed.
Some positive implications of the Dakota Pipeline could include an increase of jobs and independence from other countries in the oil sector. However, although the Dakota Pipelines are financially beneficial, these merits must be questioned because the tradeoff is life.
The Dakota Access Pipeline may harm the water supply of millions. The pipelines were actually supposed to go through the capital city of North Dakota, but now have been re-routed because a pipeline break could poison the city’s water supply. The new route will pass through the Standing Rock Tribe’s land and affects millions downstream. If the pipeline breaks, the water supply will be contaminated, negatively impacting many lives.
Also, health issues aside, this act is discriminatory against Native Americans. The pipeline’s route was adjusted to avoid the city because it was considered “too dangerous”, and yet somehow this danger is seen as inconsequential when applied to Native Americans. This mindset makes it clear that the lives of native people matter less than the lives of the people in the city to those in charge of this project. To blindly accept this injustice for the sake of financial growth is simply absurd.
In 1851, the U.S. government recognized the Standing Rock territory as sacred, but now, they are going back on their recognition. The government knew many would be affected by the pipeline construction as an unceded and sovereign territory of the Sioux Nation. So, they needed to consult the Standing Rock Sioux before they started building the pipeline. However, this consultation has still not taken place, and has instead been replaced with physical violence toward the protesters. According to the Standing Rock Tribal Historian and director of the Camp of the Sacred Stones Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, the pipeline contractors have ignored “pending legal action taken by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Oceti Sakowin tribes, treaty law, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.”
In addition, the construction of this pipeline has destroyed sacred burial sites and other significant territory. Government’s active plan to destroy the sacred lands of the Native Americans is unjust recognition of Native Americans as lesser and a clear indication of the government’s insensitivity to Native American culture. These priorities seem terrifyingly reminiscent of the United State’s racist treatment of minorities over the course of its history.
After spending a week in Arizona serving the Navajo tribe, I learned that Native Americans place great value on their sacred land. It is almost all they have after the government evicted them from their homes for, yet again, financial gains. So, after all the government has done to Native Americans, to now destroy the only thing they have left is simply abhorrent.
The most condemned acts of history involve a disrespect of culture, ethnicity, and race. I hope that the government is wise enough to stop pipeline construction before it becomes another dent to the legacy of the U.S. government.