Environmental and Native American issues collide at Standing Rock

By Val Petsche

Staff Writer

In the southern region of North Dakota, thousands of protestors, activists and regular human beings alike have gathered with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to protect sacred land from a major oil pipeline.

Ever since April, members of Standing Rock established camp along the Missouri river as a form of protest against the Dakota Access Oil company. Now, more than 3,000 people along with 300 other tribes stand in unison to demonstrate peaceful protests against the large corporation.

This $3.8 billion project, stretching 1,172 miles, crosses the Missouri River and would threaten the tribe’s source of drinking water as well as trespass onto ancient burial grounds. It is also where 570,000 barrels of crude oil would be transported from the Bakken formation to Illinois and Iowa every day.

For many environmentalists, an infrastructure project of this magnitude raises alarms as to the implications it may have on the surrounding ecosystem. For the Sioux, it endangers both their culture and way of life. After all, as the demonstrators say in a slogan that most have adopted, “water is life.”

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted Dakota Access permission to begin construction in July on the pipeline. Under this loophole known as Nationwide Permit 12, the company did not have to wait for pending environmental regulation or the permission of local tribes.

The Sioux at Standing Rock sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and sought a restraining order against the oil company, which U.S. Judge James Boasberg denied.

Shortly after, the Department of Justice, Army, and the Department of the Interior intervened, releasing a joint statement that ordered Dakota Access to halt construction until further review.

More recently, this past Labor Day protestors were on a routine march to join in prayer when construction workers began bulldozing a two mile tract of land nearby. The site was officially recognized as ancestral burial grounds only a day before, prompting demonstrators to erupt in anger and protest.

Amid opposition, tensions escalated further as security workers used attack dogs and mace on the demonstrators. Company workers eventually retreated from the scene and what may be referred to as a riot. Thirty people were reported affected by the pepper spray and several were bitten, including a child and one pregnant woman.

What occurred at Standing Rock that day is reminiscent of the abuse inflicted on African Americans during the civil rights movement. The company’s actions were extremely unwarranted, for those protesters were on Federal land within the confines of the Reservation, acting in non-violent protests.

Though future precedents are uncertain, the Federal government’s issuance provided a victory for the Sioux, whose interference can be seen as a significant historical moment in reform regarding consideration for Native American rights.

While it is hard to foretell how the extent of this event may unfold, it is clear what people are capable of when they unite for the common good. It is our duty as humans to protect this beautiful earth and the grounds which support our bodies. This is nothing new to Native Americans, whose way of life involves protecting Mother Nature.

Sadly, all too often opinion leaders fail to prioritize such issues that greatly affect the health of our earth, and cries for help go unnoticed. Only when we as a human race understand the impact of our actions may we see the possibility for a thriving, sustainable planet in the future.

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