Native American rights vs demand for energy

Our natural resources are what we depend on as a species. Huge parts of our environment, going forward, depend on what we decide to act on now. Sadly, there are many societal forces that come into play when it comes to protecting our environment. Politics and economics drive the drills going into our earth, not to mention greed and dependency on nonrenewable resources.

Currently, the Dakota Access Pipeline is under construction for the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Co. The controversial project would span 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois, a pipeline 30 inches in width. The crude oil would come from an area called the Bakken Formation, a vast underground deposit of oil, at the estimated rate of 470,000 barrels per day. That amount could, in turn, produce about 9 million gallons of gasoline per day, according to Energy Access Partners.

The location of the pipeline, specifically a section in North Dakota, comes close to Native American land, as well as a main water source, the Missouri River. Tribes across the United States have become involved with efforts to halt construction.

I myself have some native heritage and have been involved with native culture through family and Indian Education programs – and this situation strikes a chord with my values.

To understand why natives are so infuriated with the project, you have to understand the general beliefs a lot of tribes have. I say “general beliefs” because there are hundreds of tribes across the U.S., which all have specific ceremonies, stories, and beliefs.

Many native traditions were lost in a hundred-plus years of colonization and suppression by the U.S. government. There is a history of being taken advantage of and cast off as unimportant persons of society, and, here’s a fun fact:

“Until 1978, American Indians on reservations had no religious rights and were specifically barred from practicing traditional ceremonies. These efforts were driven by fear of uprisings by Native populations, most notably epitomized by the massacre at Wounded Knee, Dec. 29, 1890, when Lakota men, women and children were gunned down while gathering for a Ghost Dance, a spiritual practice.” (found in an article by Jim PathFinder Ewing, at manataka.org/page1965.html)

Many tribes believe that the earth, or “Earth Mother,” provides for us. The land doesn’t belong to anyone; we belong to the land. Natives feel compelled to protect natural resources because the earth can’t protect itself, and of late climate change is accelerating at an alarming rate. And the construction of this pipeline could add to that problem.

The energy company and its supporters bring up the fact that pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to transport oil, rather than shipping by truck or rail. I am torn after researching this, but natives are still resisting the construction because this would do more harm than good for our environment itself, and the risk is far greater than the “reward” of this pipeline. There can be economic benefits for surrounding areas and for the greater U.S., but natives would rather invest in renewable resources and development. And with the massive amount of oil that could be carried by the pipeline, there is no guarantee that there would not be a damaging spill.

Natives have been protesting against the pipeline for many months. The Sacred Stone Camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, was established in April after the pipeline was given approval by the state’s Public Safety Commission in January.

Mainstream media have only recently started to cover the protests, due to violent acts ensuing after authorities took moves to hinder the protest efforts. Often in any protest, individuals can be overcome with emotion and peaceful protests become tainted, and diminished. I am uneducated in the specifics of each escalated situation at Standing Rock; either side could have caused violence on several counts.

However, recent events make me feel particularly dismayed. Natives who are peacefully protesting are being maced, pepper sprayed, and shot at with rubber bullets. Their camp has been invaded and ransacked by police. There are snipers and tanks in the area. Last week, a reported 141 protesters were arrested and, due to lack of accommodations, were marked by number on their arms and placed them in dog kennels by police.

One of the first stories that came to light publicly was that construction workers of the pipeline had destroyed a native burial ground for the project. Lately, many protesters are crossing the river in attempt to protect yet another such site, where the company plans to dig underneath the river.

Water is an essential resource and should be a priority, rather than nonrenewable resources that harm our environment. There are several prophecies from tribes about the significance of water. To natives, this is a time to decide if we are going to stand up for our home. Water is life; we cannot survive without water.

You can’t drink oil. Why are we waiting until it’s too late to protect our natural resources?

4 Comments

  1. Megan, please provide the Proclamation ratified by 1/3rd of the voters of the United States to amend the Constitution to make the health, welfare, saftey and benefits of a select group of U.S./State citizens distinguishable because of “Indian ancestry/race?” Absent your proclamation, there are no more “Indians” in your piece…only U.S./State citizens who have no say in uses of land owned by We, the People.

  2. Well done Megan!

  3. Question: Where is the proclamation ratified by 1/3rd of the voters to amend the Constitution to make the health, welfare, safety and benefits of a select group of U.S./State citizens distinguishable because of their “Indian ancestry/race?”

    Secondly, there is no such thing under the Constitution as an “Indian reservation” whereby land is set aside for the exclusive use of a select group of U.S./State citizens because of their “Indian ancestry/race!’
    Third, what is commonly known as an “Indian reservation” is land owned by We the People, with U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” being merely tenants on federal land with ‘…use and occupancy rights only…’ according to federal documents.

  4. Megan I am so proud of you for bringing this to the attention of your fellow students. It is really well written and keeping it personal, not just what info. you can find online, makes it a very powerful piece. We should all Stand with Standing Rock. Our President has halted construction right now until further research can be done to see if they can move it somewhere else and go around the Native land and water. We’ll see, I guess this is better than nothing, but personally I’d rather the President just put an end to this kind of destruction of land, water and honor the survival of this lands first indigenous peoples.

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