The Dakota Access Pipeline is a proposed oil pipeline, an Energy Transfer Partners project, that would run through several states, transporting crude oil (petroleum) from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa and culminating in Illinois. The pipeline would run through several sacred Native American burial sites and other indigenous lands. In order to ensure understanding of the significance of this pipeline and its implications on the indigenous peoples in our country, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page — so let’s break it down.
The 411 On Oil:
There’s a lot to know about oil, but with so much information, it’s hard to know where to start; especially when its usage is so normalized within our society. We all use oil, but what do we even know about how it’s obtained — or what it even really is?
- What is petroleum? Petroleum is a fossil fuel formed from organic matter (ancient plants, animals, and microbes) buried deep in the Earth beneath a lot of sediment.
- How do we obtain petroleum? Well, petroleum already exists inside the Earth, so we have to extract it by drilling (as deep as six miles beneath the Earth, in most cases) and using a lot of tools to manipulate the oil inside of a tube that the oil workers then need to be able to control. Ever heard of “fracking?” This is it.
- Why do we need petroleum? Unfortunately, we use petroleum as fuel for our cars, jets, and heating oil in addition to loads of other ways — such as in plastic, asphalt, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, detergents, photographic film, furniture, packaging materials, surfboards, paints, upholstery; and in the production of helium, sulfur, & other valuable materials.
- But, do we really need it? In short — yes. The oil industry is a big contender in the U.S. economy. I could write a whole other blog post on just how deeply our politics, economy, and everyday lives are messily intertwined with the oil industry — but I won’t. The important thing to know is, that intermingling could change! And it can with your action. There are a lot of alternatives out there; leading alternatives include alcohol, solar, wind, hydrogen and biofuels.
The 411 On The Pipeline:
The pipeline is anticipated to bring in an estimated $156 million in sales and income taxes and millions in state and local revenues.
- The Dakota Access Pipeline is a proposed oil pipeline that would transport light, sweet crude oil (unrefined petroleum).
- DAPL would cut through 50 counties in 4 states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois; stretching 1,172 miles in length .
- The pipeline would create 8-12,000 temporary constructions jobs and a maximum of 40 permanent operating jobs.
Tribal Relations in the United States:
- There are 562 federally recognized Tribal Nations in the United States which breaks down to about 5.4 million people according to the 2014 census. Despite this large number, the United States repeatedly fails the indigenous people whose land we live on by largely disregarding their pleas when important situations are ongoing (such as this) — and their mere existence the rest of the time.
- Native Americans “possess a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government,” meaning that tribal nations are sovereign powers while their tribe members are still considered U.S. citizens . The United States’ relations with Tribal Nations has largely been conducted through treaties, which are contracts among nations. The most important legal obligation in so-called “Indian affairs” is the federal Indian trust responsibility, “under which the United States ‘has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust’ toward Indian tribes (Seminole Nation v. United States, 1942)” . This legislation requires that the United States protect tribal lands and resources, among other things, including assets and treaty rights .
- Although the treaties that exist are between sovereign powers, the Tribal Nations clearly have less power than the U.S. federal government. With that said, although the U.S. government is legally bound to the treaties they’ve enacted with Tribal Nations, we don’t really know what consequences they may face if they ever violate these treaties — or if they would even face any.
Understanding The #NoDAPL Protests:
- after prStanding Rock is a Native American tribe — the Standing Rock Sioux of North Dakota. Sacred Stone is the camp at which they and their indigenous peers have gathered to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, defend the land and to protect the water supply that the pipeline would tarnish in the highly likely event that it were to break.
- There are currently more than 300 tribal nations at the Standing Rock camp protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in order to protect the water. This is the largest gathering of Tribal Nations in history.
- The pipeline has been under construction since the early summer. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a motion for an emergency halt of construction in order to protect their land on June 27th .
- The Obama administration revoked their authorization for DAPL construction on September 9th. However, construction has since resumed.
- The Governor of North Dakota has called in the National Guard as a response to the protests — with 24 soldiers on site and another hundred on call . Prior to this decision, Energy Transfer Partners had private security on site at the construction grounds where water protectors were peacefully protesting. The private security had canines and were allowing the dogs to attack the water protectors, resulting in several being injured and bloodied.
Why does all of this matter?
- Fossil fuels, such as petroleum, are responsible for 11.3% of greenhouse gas emissions, which are connected to global warming/climate change.
- The pipeline would disturb important Native American cultural sites. It already has — bulldozers purposely bulldozed sacred burial sites, cultural artifacts and prayer sites in response to tribal protests . This was done one day after the Standing Rock Sioux tribe filed their emergency motion, which identified these sacred sites.
- The movement to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline is not just a crisis for the human and land rights of Native Americans, but it is also for everyone else in the pipeline’s proposed pathway, who live off of water from the Missouri River. Oil pipelines are well-known for bursting, especially ones that have been thought, or at least claimed to be, completely safe and secure. That means these water protectors are fighting for this generation and for many, many more down the line; not just Native generations, but all.
- This fight is extremely important to the indigenous peoples still living in the U.S. because the way that this is situation is handled by the federal government may potentially set the precedent for how, going forward, we will treat Native peoples and their lands; commodifying and capitalizing on them without consequence.
The Connection to SJSU:
If these reasons alone haven’t swayed you towards supporting Standing Rock and the #NoDAPL movement, maybe bringing it closer to home will help. I spoke with Joey Montoya, a fifth-year San Jose State student, founder of SJSU’s Native American Student Organization, and a Lipan Apache born and raised in San Francisco. Montoya spent some time at the Standing Rock camp this summer to defend the water and support the plight of his fellow indigenous peoples. “The most memorable part of my stay at Standing Rock was the people. More than 200 Tribal Nations coming to join [Standing Rock]. This is the first time [in history] this many Native nations have come together. They not only came to support Standing Rock, but they know that Water is Life,” Montoya said.
If you hadn’t heard about the Dakota Access Pipeline or the #NoDAPL movement before this post, don’t feel bad — mainstream media hasn’t covered the movement for most of the time it’s been going on. “I am not surprised that the media isn’t covering the DAPL,” Montoya said, “because the media has never shared an interest in Native communities or what is happening on and off the Reservations to Native people. It wasn’t until celebrities and independent media started to support/cover Standing Rock that mainstream media actually started to report on DAPL.”
The United States has a long history of ignoring the indigenous peoples we stole this land from. “Since 1491, we have continued to be mistreated. It never stopped… and the government has continued to commit genocide [of] Indigenous Peoples, just in different forms,” Montoya said. “We weren’t considered citizens until 1924 when Congress granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S. And it wasn’t until 1957 that all states in the U.S. gave Native Americans the right to vote. [There is this] idea that Indigenous Peoples are all gone [from the U.S.] and our educational system has contributed to that idea. Until the United States recognizes this genocide and listens to us, this will continue to happen to our people.”
I asked Montoya why water is so important, and why it’s important that the DAPL protesters are referred to as “protectors” instead of as “protesters.” As a Linguistics major, I understand that language is an extremely powerful tool, and that most people don’t realize the potential effects it can have on an individual’s — and consequently, society’s — ideas, opinions, actions and overall life. Montoya answered, “Mni Wiconi — Water is Life. It is an easy concept to understand, yet we have a difficult time actually understanding it. As indigenous peoples, we know that we are caretakers of the land and water. We recognize it’s important. We are made up of water and if water goes, we go…. I think people need to start realizing that we are protecting the water and land, not only for Standing Rock, but [also for the] 18 million people who drink from the Missouri River. We are water protectors and will continue to call ourselves that.”
If you want to support Standing Rock and are unable to do so in person, you can still provide allyship and get involved in this fight. “Overall, people can get educated about the issue… call the White House or Dakota Access and ask them to stop the pipeline. Another way is helping Standing Rock with legal fees. Many people and groups, such as Shailene Woodley and #UpToUS, Indigenous Environmental Network, Urban Native Era, and more are not only raising awareness of the issue, but raising money [for the cause]. Some of the people or networks have made t-shirts to sell to raise funds for Standing Rock. If you would like to help, donate [and] go to StandingRock.org.”
Literally since the beginning of the United States, our government has failed to recognize Native ownership of this land or even of their basic human rights. Construction may be halted at this time, but the Dakota Access Pipeline is far from over. The Army Corps of Engineers is simply sitting back, waiting for the attention on DAPL to die down and for the indigenous peoples to move out from the Standing Rock camp so that they may proceed with construction without indigenous bodies further obstructing their paths.
This is why we must keep talking about Standing Rock. If we do not support them, the indigenous people of this land will lose yet another battle to the oppressive system that is the U.S. federal government. We must stand in solidarity with Standing Rock and the other Tribal Nations of this land. We must do more.
Protect indigenous rights. Protect our water. Protect the earth for future generations.
Mni Wiconi. Water is life. #NoDAPL.
- Sign the petition to the White House .
- Visit the #NoDAPL movement’s website.
- Support Standing Rock.
- Contact your local representative today to influence their stance on green energy and demand their support for the indigenous peoples of the United States.
- Contact the big banks sponsoring the pipeline. Contact details and suggestions of what to say can be found here.
- Support Urban Native Era.
- Support Indigenous Environmental Network.
- Outreach to celebrities who you think would support the cause — they have a platform, and if we pressure them, they might use it to raise awareness about Standing Rock.
- Outreach in your everyday lives — educate those around you about what’s happening at Standing Rock. Ask if they’ve heard, and ask what they’re doing about it. What are you doing about it?