For hundreds of years, Native Americans have been disrespected on land that was originally their own. Today, the disrespect continues. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a serious threat to Native Americans. Senator Bernie Sanders, speaking at a rally outside the White House, proclaimed “The first Americans have been lied to, have been cheated, and their sovereign rights have been denied them” (“Bernie Sanders’s Surprise Speech”). It is absolutely unfair that Native Americans and their allies have to protest against a pipeline that will damage the small amount of land given by a government that has already taken so much from them. This is a very real and current problem that threatens Native American communities located dangerously close to the pipeline. Generations of Native Americans have faced so many obstacles, and this is only another one that, unfortunately, was planted in front of them. Native Americans have had to fight for their way of life and their land ever since Christopher Columbus arrived in the new world, and their battle has become urgent.
The mistreatment of Native Americans first became legally sanctioned during Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Many know Jackson as the face on the 20-dollar bill; however, his actions as President of the United States have always negatively stood out. Jackson had a prominent role in Indian relations during previous presidencies, and he was the first president to initiate Indian removal policy. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave him the power to negotiate treaties to buy tribal lands in the east in exchange for the Native Americans to live on lands west of the Mississippi River, which were not part of the United States at the time. His successor, Martin van Buren enforced removals in the Cherokee territory in Georgia. During the trek to present-day Oklahoma, where the pre-determined Indian territory was located, 4,000 Cherokees died. This event, known as the Trail of Tears, along with many other forced removals of tribes, caused the death of thousands of Native Americans. At the hands of Andrew Jackson, thousands of Native Americans were removed from their ancestral homelands and relocated to places where they would only continue to endure challenges that impacted their way of life.
The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline is yet another injustice against Native Americans, their well-being, and their homes. It is a pipeline that will transport oil daily from North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, to Illinois. It will predominantly affect the Standing Rock Sioux tribe (about 10,000 people) because it will travel directly underneath the Mississippi River. This may not seem like a problem, however, the river is their primary source of drinking water, which could be polluted if there is a leak or break in the pipeline. Despite reassurance from the builders, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has reported more than 3,000 breaks and damages since 2010. This kind of hazard makes Native Americans want to fight harder. The Indigenous Environmental Network’s Dallas Goldtooth is familiar with this type of fight. Goldtooth helped to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and is now prepared to stop this one as well. The Indigenous organizer argued that each battle is a part of the same larger fight (Knight). Goldtooth constantly urges us to “support our brothers and sisters” and to fight this larger fight, which is saving a home we all share from a construction project that could eventually lead to more pollution and further climate change and developments that cause more harm than good to our planet (Knight).
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who represent a significant force in the protest, say that the pipeline also disturbs ancient cultural sites. The land being used for the pipeline does not pass through their reservation, but they have a valid excuse for protesting. Tribal leaders argue “that the federal government did not adequately engage the Standing Rock Sioux during the permitting process—a requirement under federal law” (Worland). The reason why the pipeline was built through ancient sites or burial grounds is because nobody understands their true meanings except the Native Americans. Most people don’t understand that if burial grounds are destroyed or disturbed, the spirits that linger there would not be able to find their way in the afterlife. Faith Spotted Eagle, an elder who currently lives at one of the protest camps, says that “You don’t disturb people that have been put to rest” (Ravitz). The efforts of Faith Spotted Eagle and other Native Americans to fight for their sacred land do not go unnoticed by the government. Officers force activists and protestors off the land owned by pipeline operators. Many Native Americans are an unceasing force, either by standing strong in the face of officers or taking part in prayer circles. They have opposed the construction of the pipeline since its conception, but their efforts seem increasingly futile.
The construction of this pipeline along with the protests of the Native American community has finally caught the attention of the media. For years, their problems were constantly sidelined for other events that were deemed more important to the public, such as celebrity sightings and disputes. Specifically, the Dakota Access Pipeline protest has gained attention on social media, especially on Twitter, where it was a top story several times in the popular section, “Moments.” One reason the Dakota Access Pipeline protest became so popular so quickly was because of Shailene Woodley, a well-known teen drama actress, who was arrested in North Dakota after she joined the protest. Following her arrest, she released a statement about why she supports the protest. She said that this is “not another time to ignore, mistreat and turn a blind eye to Native Americans” (Woodley). Native Americans have never been lucky when it comes to dealing with the government and how the news continuously ignores them. Woodley is calling on us to fight with them because it is a problem that affects thousands of people who are citizens of this country, just like you and me. She also said, “It took me, a white non-native being arrested…to bring this cause to many people’s attention” (Woodley). Today, we live in a world where for better or for worse, sometimes an issue is deemed important or validated only after a well-known celebrity or public figure brings attention to the cause. Native Americans cannot only rely on other tribe members, themselves, and the small chance somebody famous will mention their cause. They need support from every single person in this country to overcome a pipeline that will definitely disturb the lives of thousands of Native Americans.
Sadly, there are many people who do not support the protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline and fail to see the injustices against Native Americans and the environment. President-Elect Donald Trump and his idea for America disregards their work. As President, he wants to get rid of plans, policies, and agreements that focus on clean power and energy. Very soon the most powerful man in the world will be someone who has called climate change a “hoax” (Mack). His opinion on this issue is from a tweet from 2012, but he has not changed his mind, as he plans to undo current climate change policies with the help of his transition team and cabinet. The President-Elect’s plans are threats to the earth we inhabit and Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the few politicians who realizes that “Not only is climate change real, not only is it caused by human behavior, but it is already causing devastating problems in our country” (“Bernie Sanders’s Surprise Speech”). Sanders is completely against anything that harms the earth, including the pipeline, and is one of the many politicians who fiercely protests in hopes of raising awareness on this issue. More politicians need to step up and fight for important environmental issues, like climate change and the Dakota Access Pipeline, which pose threats to our earth and its inhabitants.
The only way to fix our home is by realizing that we are the cause of this damage and by doing something about it. Fortunately, something was done on December 4th, 2016. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partners, which is the company behind the pipeline, a permit to drill beneath Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. This action officially halted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline; however, many wonder, what comes next? Immediate action needs to be taken to secure this victory for the Native Americans because it is almost definite that Donald Trump will use his power to make choices about the country’s energy that will only cause destruction. The earth is crying, and through their own tears, the Native Americans have made clear their decision to act. For those sitting at home, wondering how they can help, we need to inform local representatives, congressmen and government officials about the matter at hand. Voices from all over the country need to be heard in order to make even more progress in support of Native Americans everywhere as well as our environment at large. Now, it is our duty to join them in saving the land that they have called home for generations.
“Bernie Sanders’s Surprise Speech Outside the White House on Rejecting Dakota Pipeline &
Trump” Youtube, uploaded by Democracy Now! 16 Nov 2016. Web. 17 Nov 2016.
Knight, Nika. “‘We Are Protectors': After DAPL Decision, Tribal Members Look to the Future of Pipeline Fight.” Common Dreams. N.p., 8 Dec. 2016. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.
Mack, Eric. “Let’s Discuss Climate Change In Donald Trump’s America; Trolls Welcome.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 12 Nov. 2016. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.
Ravitz, Jessica. “The sacred land at the center of the Dakota pipeline fight.” CNN. Cable News Network, 1 Nov. 2016. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.
Woodley, Shailene. “Shailene Woodley: The Truth About My Arrest.” TIME. N.p., 20 Oct. 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Worland, Justin. “What to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests.” TIME. N.p., 28 Oct. 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.