Listening to Native voices

The Dakota Access Pipeline is planned to run 1,172 miles between North Dakota and Illinois. It’s meant to replace a large portion of the road and train transportation of crude oil from Dakota fracking plots to refineries, transporting as many as 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Landowners with proposed pipeline running through their property will receive compensation for their troubles and agriculture can resume as soon as the pipeline is fully covered.

However, much of the land the pipeline is meant to run through isn’t owned by a single person, but a tribe of people. The pipeline poses great risk to sacred land and waters of our indigenous neighbors, who are currently banding together to keep their rights and heritage safe. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and members from hundreds of others across the United States and Canada have resisted the pipeline for months and are just now getting the media attention they deserve.

According to Tribal Chairman David Archambault II, construction crews have already destroyed sacred places with ancient burial grounds and cultural artifacts of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe where the Cannonball and Missouri rivers join. This is the equivalent of someone bulldozing through a graveyard in your hometown. One could argue it is far worse, given the cultural and historical significance of indigenous burial grounds and artifacts.

“These grounds are the resting place of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned to hollow ground,” Archambault said to Indian Country Today. Why hasn’t this gotten more nationwide attention?

Unfortunately, the United States has a long history of ignoring minorities until it suits our own agenda. The U.S. has broken every one of the treaties it has made with Native nations — the same treaties made between tribes and the U.S. government meant to be binding and for the good of the two peoples. And we’re violating them again a hundred years later when we can no longer hide behind shallowly disguised racism of doing it for their own good.

Native Americans are a people that have been protesting harmful developments like deforestation for urban development and fracking for crude oil for decades. We’ve only just begun to listen. Protesters have suffered pepper spray, dog attacks, legal consequences and arrests. They have given up food and clean clothing. They’ve sacrificed their basic human rights to defend their land and their livelihood when none of us were listening. We only notice them now because white celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio are talking about it.

On Sept. 6, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg temporarily halted construction on portions of the pipeline. On Sept. 9, the Departments of Justice, the Interior and the Army requested a halt on the pipeline to reassess the building sites. Many raise questions about the legitimacy of the building permits in the first place, and others still join the protest.

Native American or not, it is our responsibility to listen to these overpowering voices and support them. Oil and greed should not trump human rights and decency.

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