Ever since the White Man stepped onto the shores of what became “America” we — and I mean all of us, through action or inaction — have systematically tried to destroy those Native Peoples and their cultures in favor of our own needs, our own greed, our own sense of entitlement … and we’re still doing it today.
Right now, the United States government, along with Dakota Access, the company building the pipeline, is trying to take control of Native American lands to allow oil developers the right drill on those lands — lands that are not ours — and build a massive oil pipeline across those lands to move that oil.
Oh, it sounds so simple: we just want to drill for oil on your land, and we just want to build a pipeline on your land. But those are the same arguments that were used in Canada for the Tar Sands project and take a look at the before and after photos of what happened there:
Pretty? Right? Who wouldn’t let the US government come in and do that to your land?
This new pipeline, the Bakken, would follow a similar pathway as that of the failed Keystone pipeline; this new, massive fracked oil line would cut through four Midwestern states,across the Ogallala aquifer, the Mississippi and hundreds of other waterways through sovereign Native lands. And so the Native People of the Dakotas have taken to a protest, though they are calling it, more accurately, a “protect” of those lands and the idea that the US can simply come in and take over and do with the lands what they will.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe say the pipeline threatens sacred sites — including sacred burial grounds — and drinking water resources, and that no meaningful consultation between the Native Peoples and the government ever took place.
Of course, the Army Corps of Engineers disagrees; they say the tribe declined to be part of the process, while the tribe says they didn’t want to legitimize a flawed process in which the government simply does what it wants though coercion and bullying.
Dakota Access — which says the project is safe and will benefit the region and boost energy independence — have agreed to stop construction until the court rules on the injunction.But Dakota Access says, in response to the claim that the Bakken would be a danger to the environment, that they will have personnel all along the pipeline for operation and maintenance, use a 24-hour monitoring system to detect pressure changes, and ensure shut-off valves that can be remotely activated if a leak happens. They also say the project will create more than 12,000 jobs and open up rail capacity for crops and other commodities via the extra 750 rail cars required departing the tank terminal every day.
It all sounds so good, right? More jobs! More transport for crops and goods via the railways! More, and better, safety precautions! But what about a mistake; an accident; a spill. Think of all the water resources that would be threatened—turning a great deal of the country into Flint, Michigan; think of the farmlands destroyed by an oil spill from Texas to the Dakotas, and the crops lost. Think of the wildlife threatened, and destroyed, by that accident.
Federal agencies say the Bakken avoids “critical habitat” but is that true when it runs across farmlands, rivers, forests, wildlife areas and major waterways like the Mississippi, and the Missouri? And given the oil disasters we’ve seen, here in this country — Exxon Valdez, anyone … the Gulf Spill, anyone — would we be right in trusting that this new oil project is truly safe?
And say we did; say we do trust that the government and private corporations will do the best they can to protect the water and protect the land, what bothers me the most is what we are once again doing to Native Peoples; stealing their land for our own profit; taking what we gave them because we have come to realize it’s more valuable than we originally thought. This White Man’s Greed needs to be stopped.
I read a great book about the way the United States government has treated Native People’s since we landed here — In The Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen — in which I learned that, while in office, President Nixon signed a treaty with Native Americans regarding land in the Dakotas and gave all the land to the tribes there. But, when it was later learned that the land was rich in uranium, Nixon took the land back, saying the US government does not make treaties with its own people. It was theft, pure and simple; theft by the government over people we have marginalized, criminalized, and removed to lands that were not their own because we wanted their land for our own needs.
And so now this new “protect” is happening, as Native People try, once again, to keep what’s theirs; what we “gave” them after we stole from them.
For months tribe members have protested at one of the construction sites where the Cannonball and Missouri rivers meet. It was a small group, at first, but has since grown in size and attention as the construction goes on, and the national and international media have taken notice. And with that added scrutiny, both state and county governments have escalated their response by arresting the “protectors”; more that 30 arrests have been made in the last two weeks alone.
In addition, North Dakota Homeland Security Director Greg Wilz ordered the removal of state-owned trailers and water tanks from the “protect” camp in response to alleged disorderly conduct; tribe members had requested and been given mobile public health services like water to ensure the safety of the protesters, but now those services are gone … possibly in the hopes that once they have no water, no air conditioned trailers, no services, the protesters will also move along. Following that, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple issued an emergency declaration for southwest and south-central North Dakota saying there was a “significant public safety concern” while the tribes maintain the protests have been peaceful.
That peace, however, may not last, as news of the protest spread and more people, on both sides of the issue, flood into the area. Tribe officials say that as many as 4,000 people have come to North Dakota and that tribal flags from as far away as California can be seen flying, showing that support extends beyond Great Plains tribes.
And as more tribes push back against the Bakken and, in effect, the US government, landowners in Iowa are making their own stand. This past week, the Iowa Utilities Board told Dakota Access to keep away from the properties of 15 landowners who are facing eminent domain but have not granted easements; this halt in construction will run until the board is done reviewing the landowner’s lawsuit.
And then came the worse news … Last Friday a federal judge denied the tribe's request to halt construction on the Bakken, ruling that regulators had acted properly when issuing permitting for the project. But they threw a bone at the tribes, saying that "important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe … regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain."
So, they admitted there is cause for concern, both in the harm to the environment in the case of an accident, and the trespassing into the sovereign lands of Native Peoples, and yet they still sided with Dakota Access.
Again, it looked like we were screwing Native Peoples for profit until … Obama.
After the ruling by the federal court, the Obama administration said it would not authorize construction on that critical stretch of the Bakken pipeline, and added that construction would halt until it can do more environmental assessments.
The Department of Justice, the Army and the Interior Department immediately halted construction on the pipeline near North Dakota's Lake Oahe, a major water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and they must now decide whether they will reconsider permitting decisions for the pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“I want to take a moment and reflect on this historic moment in Indian Country, but I know that our work is not done. We need to permanently protect our sacred sites and our water. There are areas on the construction route that do not fall within federal jurisdiction, so we will continue to fight.” — Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Dakota Access developers had no comment on the decision, but the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now which supports the pipeline, said the decision was “deeply troubling and could have a long-lasting chilling effect on private infrastructure development in the United States.”
Again, it’s more about profit than doing what’s right, doing what’s best for the environment; doing what’s best, and right, for Native Americans.
Look, I’m all about jobs; but not at the expense of the environment. What good will the jobs be, what good will the oil be, when the water supplies are destroyed, when the farm lands go barren, when the oil seeps into the ground and ruins everything?
And I am utterly against the decimation of Native Peoples rights; for far too long we have treated them as less than, shunted them aside, forcibly moved them from their homes and lands to places in this country that we, at the time, didn’t want, didn’t need. And then suddenly we find valuable mineral deposits or vast underground oil fields and we decide that the land we gave to these Native Peoples really belongs to us and so we take it, and we ruin it. We tear these people away from their lands in a way that, if someone did that to us … the White Man … we would not tolerate it.
Imagine the uproar if oil was discovered under Washington DC and a company wanted to run a pipeline through Arlington National Cemetery. Would any of us sit still and allow that to happen? And, if not, how can we allow it to happen to anyone else?
This has to stop. It’s bad for the Native People, it’s bad for the environment; it’s just plain bad. There are other, safer sources of energy that won’t end up killing anyone in an accident; that won’t end up destroying the more vital resources — water and farmlands — that we all need to survive.
Protect. Protest. Do unto others …