Protestors at Standing Rock keep up the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The conflict over a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP), along with other pipelines quietly approved in Texas and back in June in Iowa, poses pressing issues ranging from indigenous rights and landscape preservation, to the prevention of pollution of waterways and the commodification of drinking water, to climate change and energy independence.
While the DAP pipeline was marketed as a way of relieving America from dependence on foreign fossil fuels, in actuality the pipelines will siphon crude oil for export. And while Native Americans, namely the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, initially agreed to the pipeline as a source of economic development, promises of responsible construction were broken as historic sites were bulldozed, including sacred burial grounds, which had just been discovered and were under review by the state historic preservation office. The Sioux were excluded from consultations throughout the rest of the process.
To begin with, the pipeline was approved through a loophole process as several small projects judged by states and counties. This process bypassed federal jurisdiction and, most importantly, the minimum four-year environmental-impact study that it would have entailed had the company, Energy Transfer (ET), properly reported the project. Keystone XL was rejected after a federal approval process, and ET has taken care to avoid the same move.
“So this approval happened in less than a year,” says Chris Newell, an education supervisor at the Pequot Museum in a phone interview in November. “We take all the environmental risk for this private company that is not serving the public. The oil leaves the country, and over 50% of the banks [that invested in the pipeline] are foreign. So the money made is leaving the country as well.”
There have been many instances where oil agreements with indigenous nations have not worked out as originally planned. “In Texas, an oil company set up the Bakken shale oil, and some of the natural gas was supposed to be capped to heat homes on the reservation, but the company just burned it,” said Newell.
“There’s also a history of uranium mining where water resources have been permanently poisoned on the Navajo reservation. There are now high rates of thyroid cancers there and no way for tribes to have recourse for the damage done to the land.”
Since reservations are reduced to the smallest amount of land that the federal government is willing to allocate to a tribe, indigenous nations depend on a small base. They must protect resources for survival, and without clean water, the land does not support them. “It poisons you in the long run,” said Newell.
Leakages are common. Since 1990, there have been some 2,000.
“There’s a promise from Energy Transfer that they can shut down the pipeline from Texas within seconds of a leaky pipe,” said Newell. “We’ve heard that promise before. We don’t believe it this time. Not anymore.”
If there is a leakage from the DAP, it would be an environmental and health catastrophe, Newells says. “The Missouri River is the largest watershed central part of Midwest. From that part of river, it services 18,000,000 people downriver. If the water is contaminated, it will contaminate all way downriver. So it’s not just a fight for Standing Rock Sioux community. It impacts the whole country [as a legal precedent] and all those dependent on water from the Missouri River.”
Standing in Solidarity
Newell’s colleagues, recognizing that the pipeline affects their brother Standing Rock Sioux tribe and beyond, travelled to North Dakota to protest in solidarity. “We’ve had atrocities going on for 500 years, but you don’t always see thousands of native people coming together to fight for something,” said Nakai Northrup, an educator and member of the tribal youth council at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. “We took donations and headed out.”
“It’s not hostile out there like the media makes it look. There’s a family vibe. People greeted us and invited us to dinner. A lot of prayer is going on at these camps.”
Despite peaceful protests, guard dogs were used on the Standing Rock Sioux, injuring six, including a child, and the use of tear gas, water cannons in freezing temperatures, rubber bullets and concussion grenades that left 17 injured.
“This is something I haven’t seen since Selma. It brings back traumatic memories,” said Newell.
The backlash signals how far the DAP is willing to go to protect its construction project. “As a country we should be looking forward to the days past oil. This [the DAP] means we’re not looking forward. We all heard about Keystone for years and eventually we shut it down.”
According to Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, the tribe “has always opposed fossil fuel development within our territory.” Its focus has been on the protection of water resources and sacred sites. In this regard, the Army Core of Engineers was supposed to consult with the tribe before going forward with plans, but they were ignored, according to Archambault. “Even if they just say, ‘We’re gonna re-route this pipeline out of your territory,’ that’s huge for indigenous people,” said Archambault.
In their fight to end construction, the Sioux are still in need of donations and supplies, including winter clothing, as they continue to protest and support their camp facilities, which include a traditional medical center.
“Standing Rock is tied to a deeper movement,” said Dr. Jason Mancini, Director of the Pequot Museum at a panel event at the University of Connecticut. “From Black Lives Matter, to Occupy Wall Street, people are tired of the government and corporations not really considering people on the ground.”
He continued: “The Standing Rock Sioux are really taking a stand on behalf of everyone. So how can you be of help? Start engaging boots on the ground. Stand up. If you can’t be there, support the Legal Defense Fund. Participate in social networking going on. Individuals can make a difference and share ideas of the kind of society we want, what kind of future for our children and grandchildren.”
Relearning the Past
The past is also of concern to the Pequot Museum. According to Newell, Native American history is not represented correctly or on the scope it should be in public schools. These typically focus on Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and westward expansion. Two of those subjects are based on mythologized information and the last one concentrates only on the west.
America didn’t begin in 1776. There is a lot to the history of this country that needs to be taught, the Pequot War being one of them. The conflict marked the first time a European power took on a Native power in America and won. Without the war, the English may not have taken over what eventually became known as New England.
Historically, Native Americans were only provided a public education in order to “assimilate and “civilize” them, reports Mae Ackerman-Brimberg of the National Center for Youth Law. “Children were removed from their homes and communities, placed in boarding schools or taught in missionary schools, and prohibited from using their languages, practicing their customs, or exhibiting any form of Native culture,” Ackerman writes.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Newell of current public education. “Schools are basically telling the victor’s side of the story.” He continued: “Our schools generally don’t teach about the Pequot War, without which the idea of the United States might not have not existed.” Thanksgiving is also taught incorrectly: “[I]t’s taught that the first one happened in Plymouth, when it was really Jamestown. Columbus Day—we don’t teach that right either.”
“We teach that the first reservations happened in the 19th century, when really the first one began in the early 17th century.”
Schools in Connecticut are open to updating their curriculums and the Pequot Museum is helping them to do so. “Schools are hungry for good sources of new information,” said Newell. This is why Jane H. (not her real name) of the Institute of American Indian Arts at Harvard University urges students and scholars to write more. (Her family is directly involved in the land disputes and in the oil industry and have signed non-disclosure agreements, agreeing not to speak to media regarding contracts, the status of the pipelines or the land dispute. But, as an adjunct professor, she did provide a history of North Dakota and civic awareness about the impacts on Native communities.)
“Write more about Native History. We need more writing to testify to indigenous roots and culture. So write. Write, write, write,” said Jane H. at a panel event at the University of Connecticut.
The blessings of prayer and writing have also led up to the decision to re-route the pipeline, which is now to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. Although the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been successful in protecting their water supply near the reservation, they are still continuing their protest, which has been sustained for months on end.
“We are asking our supporters to keep up the pressure, because while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration,” said Dallas Goldtooth, lead organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement. “More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe.”
*[Updated: January 22, 2018]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: kodda