The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota has been protesting the construction of an oil pipeline they say will not only threaten the quality of their water, but also destroy a sacred burial ground for months now. Dakota Access Pipeline has been busy constructing the $3.8 billion line that is set to cross four U.S. states. What began as a small protest in Cannonball, North Dakota, has gained tremendous momentum, with over 200 additional Native American tribes and hundreds of environmental activists joining the cause.
The proposed 1,200 mile pipeline would carry 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation through Illinois, eventually connecting with an existing pipeline in Texas. The company claims it would be “spill-proof” and therefore, environmentally safe. They also claim its construction will create thousands of local jobs. What they refuse to acknowledge, however, is the fact the land does not belong to them and they should never have been granted permits or access to it in the first place.
On September 3, 2016, the situation became tense (and morally unjust) when security personnel attacked the Native American protesters, some of them young children, with pepper spray and trained police dogs. In addition, the protests have led to the arrests of many, including the Standing Rock Sioux chairman. In response to the chaos, the Tribe filed for a temporary restraining order against Dakota Access Pipeline to halt any further destruction of their sacrosanct land, citing a lack of proper consultation or permission from them. Federal Judge James Boasberg granted an impermanent halt on a portion of the project; after hearing arguments from both sides, a final ruling regarding its overall construction is expected September 9, 2016.
Tribal Chairmen David Archambault II is dissatisfied with the temporary arrangement, making it clear how vulnerable his people’s land continues to be. In response to the confrontation between tribal members and security officials, Archambault said, “On Saturday, Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners brazenly used bulldozers to destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts. They did this on a holiday weekend, one day after we filed court papers identifying these sacred sites. The desecration of these ancient places has already caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm. We’re asking the court to halt this path of destruction.”
More and more people are beginning to express outrage over the situation, with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell calling the attacks on Native American soil a “morally embarrassing reminder” of how America has continued to misrepresent, devalue and mistreat Native populations. He went on to say, “The original sin of this country is that we invaders shot and murdered our way across the land, killing every Native American we could, and making treaties with the rest. This country was founded on genocide.”
He’s absolutely right. The fact this is even an issue at all is appalling, considering the land was never “up for grabs” for early European settlers in the first place. There is absolutely no justification for arresting Native Americans for trespassing on their own land, nor is there any justification for building an oil pipeline designed to make the fat cats fatter while continuing to oppress and ignore those who were here 500 years before they were. America needs to do better than this.