“The Tribes have Always Paid the Price for America’s Prosperity”

Raeesa Ashique - 2B Electrical
Posted on: November 6, 2016

Police arrested 140 protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline when they moved to evict a camp set up on pipeline property on Thursday, October 27. They are accused of using abusive tactics with the peaceful protesters, including tear gas, pepper spray, and bean bag rounds, and of holding detainees in dog kennels.

The protests have been ongoing since April, and there are plans to continue through the winter if necessary.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1172-mile (1885-kilometre) pipeline spanning four states and costing $3.7 billion. It is built by a group of companies led by the Energy Transfer Partners, and was supposed to be finished by the end of 2016. It will provide the fastest route for moving Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to US Gulf Coast refineries in Illinois, transporting up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Protests are led by the Standing Rock Sioux Native Americans, who say the pipeline passes through sacred sites and burial grounds, and threatens to pollute their main water source. Also, they rightfully own the land they are protesting on, under the Treaty of Fort Laramie signed in 1851.

In an Op-Ed for the New York Times, tribal chairman David Archambault II wrote, “It’s a familiar story in Indian Country. This is the third time that the Sioux Nation’s lands and resources have been taken without regard for tribal interests. The Sioux peoples signed treaties in 1851 and 1868. The government broke them before the ink was dry.”

It’s been the same story over and over, for hundreds of years, and the government still fails to understand the hardships they have subjected Native Americans to.

President Obama commented in an interview released last week that “there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans”, and that the US Army Corps of Engineers is considering rerouting the pipeline. This is his first comment on the controversial project since the mass arrests. He added that the government will “let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans.” The plan to essentially stand by and do nothing has led to angry responses.

Environmental activists join the fight, arguing that the pipeline will increase fossil fuel emissions.

Proponents of the pipeline claim that this is a safer and more cost-effective method of transportation, compared to road or railway.

Although the protests have been mostly peaceful, there has been violence, mostly on the part of law enforcement. As mentioned earlier, police used extreme measures on demonstrators on the day of the arrests. Red Fawn Fallis allegedly pulled out a gun and fired three shots as she was being wrestled down to the ground, for which she was charged with the attempted murder of an officer a few days later. This is the first gun-related charge since the protests began.

Archambault said on Monday, November 1 that they will continue protesting into the cold season, and are looking at proper accommodation to withstand North Dakota’s severe winters. Protesters are currently primarily staying in teepees, and he notes that, “We have to make sure we are proactive and find a way to ensure [the protesters’] safety.”

This announcement comes in light of the clash with police, as well as the state’s recent allocation of millions more in funding to support law enforcement at the pipeline site.

People have recently been checking in to Standing Rock on Facebook, using Facebook’s location feature. Protesters are worried that police are tracking them on social media, and random check-ins are meant to divert attention. The police department has said: “The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location. This claim/rumor is absolutely false.”

Even if the police were using social media locations as a tool, remote check-ins would not confuse them. However, the real impact of the virtual show of solidarity is raising awareness. The protest has only recently received a lot of publicity because of the arrests, and social media is helping to heighten the response.

On a separate note, the armed militia group led by the Bundy brothers were recently, and surprisingly, acquitted of federal conspiracy and weapons charges. The anti-government group took over a federally owned wildlife sanctuary in Oregon earlier this year, claiming that the American government does not have a right to own public land.

The contrast here is interesting: an anti-government – extremely white, may I add – group was acquitted because they posed no threat to the public, but another group who is simply fighting for continued access to clean water is attacked. Attacked for what? And the end of the day, the pipeline is all about money, and this should never be at the expense of people’s basic living conditions. This also speaks to the systemic racism that is sadly not a thing of the past. Native Americans are being violently mistreated, and are still fighting for their land. Archambault also wrote in the Op-Ed, “Whether it’s gold from the Black Hills or hydropower from the Missouri or oil pipelines that threaten our ancestral inheritance, the tribes have always paid the price for America’s prosperity.”