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Dakota Access Pipeline Protests Among Native Americans

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Background of the Pipeline
  • Settler Colonialism and Sioux Tribe
  • The Protest
  • Violent Acts Committed Towards Protesters
  • News Coverage on the Protest
  • Conclusion

Introduction

When an infrastructural project such as the Dakota Access Pipeline is going to be built on native land, the native community would heavily oppose its construction by starting a protest. The protest by the Sioux Tribe would attract a lot of attention throughout the world where it generated more protesters across the nation. In this case study, I will argue that colonialism towards the native community still exists today. This is because the United States government would allow major corporations to build infrastructural projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline on native reserves which are sovereign lands and should be respected. In the first section, I will discuss the background of the pipeline such as why it was being built. Second section, I will talk about settler colonialism and what the meaning of this term is and how it has affected the Sioux Tribe. Third section will talk about the protest itself such as what the protesters were trying to achieve. In the fourth section, I will discuss the violent acts that were committed against the protesters and then in the fifth section will talk about how news outlets such as The New York Times and Fox News would cover the protest.

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Background of the Pipeline

Before I start to discuss about the protest, it is important to know what the background of the pipeline is. The construction of the pipeline was to be built by a company called Energy Transfer Partners. This pipeline was to be 1,200 miles long and would connect from the state of North Dakota to Illinois. However, it would cross the burial grounds and sacred and historically significant sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The important factor was that it would threaten their only source of drinking water where there was a huge risk of being contaminated. From the beginning of the construction, Energy Transfer would be supported by local and regional sheriffs, governor Doug Burgum, and much of the non-native population of North Dakota. Supporters of the pipeline would claim that it would meet the highest environmental safety standards and will produce greater U.S. energy independence and more jobs. This would lead the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to file a lawsuit in the federal district court seeking an injunction to stop the construction of the pipeline but it was denied. Furthermore, the district court’s decision was to be countered by a joint statement issued by departments such as the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior that admitted the district court’s perspective but stated that the Army will not yet give approval to construction of the pipeline. The joint statement asked Energy Transfer Partners to voluntarily halt the construction activity within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, until the agencies reach a decision as to whether the project violates the National Environmental Policy Act. The tribe had appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia but they would refuse to grant the tribe’s request for an injunction. However, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior would issue a second joint statement that would again refuse to authorize the construction of the pipeline and requesting the pipeline company to voluntarily pause the construction but they would refuse to obey the agencies’ requests and proceeded with the construction of the pipeline.

Settler Colonialism and Sioux Tribe

The protest against the pipeline shows how settler colonialism is still playing a big factor and to go more into depth of how this had affected the Sioux Tribe. Settler colonialism is when one population or society from a different territory seeks to move to another territory permanently where that particular area is occupied by another group of people. Those people already had established their own system of governance and would have a connection to their own environment such as plants and animals. The goal of settlers is to take over and transform the land that is already being occupied by native population to their own. One of the ways how settlers would do this is by destroying the native culture and their own system of military as a way for them to surrender and submit to the settlers. The main factor would be to erase the culture and political system of the native tribe and implement their own in this case it would be assimilation.

Conflict between the Sioux Tribe and settlers when it comes to resource extraction or infrastructure is older than we think it is. A conflict would occur when gold was discovered in the United States in the 1840s which had attracted more settlers. In 1851, U.S. would negotiate the first treaty with the leaders of the Sioux Tribe and other native tribes called the Treaty of Ft. Laramie. This treaty had to do with individual territory and governance of the native tribe but would end up being repeatedly violated by the U.S. government where they would enter the native territory which made many native tribes not happy. Because of settler immigration, military intervention, construction of railroads, and desires to explore for gold, the U.S. would negotiate the 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie where it would reduce the indigenous land base to 25 million acres which is now called South Dakota and would lead to the formation of the Great Sioux Reservation. Due to those two treaties, settlers still continued to enter Sioux lands illegally where settlers like the DAPL would set up their own fort as a way to do their business without any resistance. The kind of business that settlers would do is mining gold through self authorized access to areas such as the Black Hills.[footnoteRef:7] The interesting fact about the Black Hills is that it belonged to the native tribes and they had known that there was gold but they did not bother because there was no value in it. The Sioux Tribe would call gold as “the yellow metal that makes whites crazy.”

The Protest

What led to the protest by the Sioux Tribe was that the construction of the pipeline would do more harm to the land such as their source of drinking water where it can become contaminated if the pipeline was damaged. A lot of the native communities have respect for their land where they see themselves attached to it. In the beginning of April 2016, thousands of people who would travel across the country to join the protest that was led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe members. The protesters would start a movement called NoDAPL which would become a hashtag on social media platforms such as Twitter. What the NoDAPL movement was about is that the protesters see the pipeline heavily posing all kinds of risks to the quality of water and the cultural heritage of the Dakota and Lakota community from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Part of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction is occurring on lands and through their water supply. The tribe never gave permission or consented to the construction of the pipeline. However, the construction of the pipeline had already destroyed the significant cultural places such as ancestral burial sites. The NoDAPL movement believes that the protest is about protecting water. This movement is more of a revolutionary movement because the native community are seen as protectors since the land is sacred that is a living breathing entity where they must take good care of it so the land cares for them. This is what their main motivation is because they love their land and water so much that they are willing to live in a tent during the winter in North Dakota just to protect it.

Violent Acts Committed Towards Protesters

When it comes to this magnitude of the protest where it has gained supporters nationwide, government officials would use violent acts to stop the protest. Tensions would start between the protesters and the police. Since the protesters referred to themselves as water protectors as way to stop the construction of the pipeline, police forces would use pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas, and spray water on protesters as well. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and the police had done everything that they could to prevent the protest. It showed that they were willing to take violent measures as a way to stop the protest. On the other hand, protesters were sprayed with cold water during winter temperature. The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council would bring their ambulances where they would treat about three hundred protesters who were injured or suffered hypothermia due to being sprayed with cold water. About two dozen victims who were seriously injured had to go to the hospital where one of them almost lost an eye to an explosive projectile.

News Coverage on the Protest

When it comes to news coverage on the protest, news outlets such as The New York Times and Fox News both had different viewpoints towards the protest. The way how The New York Times would cover the protest is that they would discuss how the Sioux Tribes and other people would come together to protest against the construction of the pipeline. They wrote articles as a way to show support and raise the issue across the country. Some of the articles would mention how celebrities would issue their support by using their platform to post on social media and visit the protest as well to give the protesters a voice. On the other hand, Fox News would negatively portray the protesters as violent criminals who are trespassing on private property. They would praise law enforcement officers who are acting according to the law and will make the claim that celebrity visits were scandalized. Fox News would portray police officers as being threatened and attacked by violent protesters who were injured and feared for their safety.

Conclusion

In this case study, I have argued how colonialism is still in effect today where the U.S. government is allowing major corporations to build infrastructural projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline on native land. The first section talked about how the pipeline was going to connect from North Dakota to Illinois and this was going to be built by Energy Transfer Partners. Second section, I discussed how settler colonialism is playing factor because settlers would enter native territory and mine gold which made the native community unhappy at the time. Third, this section talked about the protest where the Sioux Tribe was against the construction of the pipeline and started a movement called NoDAPL. They would also call themselves water protectors. Fourth, police forces would use violence in order to stop the protest where protesters were harmed by rubber bullets, pepper sprayed, and had hypothermia from being sprayed by cold water during winter temperature. Fifth section talked about how New York Times would write articles that supported the protest such as how the native population were fighting for their rights. Fox News would tend to be bias and showed no support towards the protest but would often criticize the movement and would praise law enforcement.

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