Native Americans Fight For Their Rights At Standing Rock
As you may have noticed from navigating social media, many users have been checking in at the Standing Rock Reservation. In an attempt to show support for the protesters gathering at this site in North Dakota, more than 1.4 million people used Facebook to support the movement against the building of a new oil pipeline. The issue has gained significant attention, stirring passions and gaining ground across social media.
Located in North Dakota and South Dakota, Standing Rock is an Indian Reservation that is hosting the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years. In the past month, it has been the setting of ongoing protests against the construction of a new oil pipeline, which will extend for 1,170 miles and will border the Reservation, representing both an environmental and cultural threat to the inhabitants of the area.
The $3.7 billion pipeline project, if approved, will be realized by a group of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners LP, and has been a topic of great debate especially amongst the community of Native Americans. Started by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the protest movement has grown to several hundred people. Largely driven by indigenous rights activists from across the country, the movement has mobilized and gained support from several environmentalist groups. Together they have gathered at Standing Rock and camped out in tents on the pipeline construction site, keeping the project from making any progress.
The new pipeline is designed to carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois, passing close enough to pose a threat to sacred ancestral lands belonging to these communities, who claim its route will cross burial and prayer sites that have great cultural and historic significance to them. Standing up for their tribal rights, members of the Sioux tribe are fighting the aggressive attempts of police officers to put down the movement, through the use of pepper spray and armored vehicles to clear the protest site. In addition, the pipeline project seems absurd at a time in which climate change should be on the agenda of every leader around the world. Its realization encourages the progress of the fossil fuel industry and it embodies exactly the kind of project we should be avoiding.
Many protesters are concerned with its environmental impact, as the pipeline route will cross under the Missouri River which is a major source of drinking water. Should the pipeline leak or burst, the impact could be devastating. And leak pipelines do. Since 1995, more than 2,000 significant accidents involving oil and petroleum pipelines have occurred, adding up to roughly $3 billion in property damage.
Originally the pipeline was meant to cross the Missouri River just North of Bismarck, the second largest city of North Dakota. The route was relocated to cross the river above the Standing Rock Reservation, as people living in Bismarck expressed disapproval because the project threatened the water supply of a major city. Obviously, there is considerable anger that Standing Rock was chosen to be the victim instead.
According to latest news updates dated October 31, a total of 411 arrests have taken place at Standing Rock since the beginning of the unrest in August. Law enforcement officers have engaged in aggressive practices to repress the activists, some of which involved the use of taser guns, batons, and sound cannons.
The standoff reflects ongoing tensions between law enforcement officials and activists standing up for movements similar to this one. The Standing Rock conflict speaks to the larger debate regarding the conduct of police officers in repressing these movements, and reinforces the view that often times peaceful protests are put down by aggressive means.
The activists standing up for their rights, whether tribal or environmental, in North Dakota have been heroic enough to get U.S. President Barack Obama to halt the project until further notice. Considering the abysmal treatment they have received in the past, Native American people fighting to protect what remains of their sacred land have a right to be heard and supported. Furthermore, considering the climate status of our planet, another major infrastructure carrying crude oil seems to refute the commitment to halt global warming made by many world leaders, including America.
- Ludovica Grieco