Nora Kistler is a senior media studies major.
There have been intense efforts over the last few months to protest the construction of a pipeline in North Dakota that runs through Native American territory and threatens to cause massive pollution to the surrounding rivers. The Sioux people, who have historically inhabited the area, face the possibility of being taken advantage of once again.
I stand with the protesters, who prefer to call themselves “water protectors.” Their slogan, “Mni wiconi” translates to “water is life.” For the Sioux tribe, the phrase could not be more accurate. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has faced many problems when it comes to their water, first with flooding in the 1960s, and later the inability to access drinking water due to the excess of natural minerals it contained. This fight for water continues. For the Standing Rock tribe, the pipeline threatens a centuries-old culture, tradition, and way of life, and is merely history repeating itself.
The Sioux people have seen the government take their land, their rights, their resources, and now their water. In North Dakota, the Standing Rock poverty rate is at an astonishing 43.2 percent, which is triple the national average of 14.5 percent. And yet the government still sees profit as more important than protecting the vitality of federally recognized tribal lands.
Standing Rock has become an issue of racial justice. While big business sees the pipeline as profit, the pipeline is far more detrimental than it is financially beneficial. An and MSNBC article states, “The pipeline, which crosses four states, would transport up to 570,000 barrels of fracked crude oil daily, 92 feet below the Missouri River,” thus contaminating the already scarce water source. 92 feet does not provide a great enough distance to keep the crude oil away from the clean water that the river maintains.
Standing Rock has been largely dependent upon social media to get the word out. Facebook users are “checking in” to Standing Rock to show their support to the protesters stationed there, as well as throw off the police force as they try to identify specific protestors by face and name. Social media has brought an underreported issue into the public eye by generating conversations around the lack of support for Native American tribes and reservations within the country, and recognizing that the issue stems farther than a “whose land is whose” argument. The protests represent environmental concerns, respect for tradition, and an acknowledgment that it is time the government and corporations stop discriminating against indigenous people.
Demonstrators who have stood in opposition to the pipeline have been pepper-sprayed, shot at with rubber bullets, and arrested. While law enforcement have claimed protesters were trespassing, the tribe cannot trespass on the land that has always been theirs.
Law enforcement is using force to combat peaceful protests, which doesn’t qualify as serving justice. There have been active attempts by police to dismantle teepees, and a set of Sioux men were forcefully removed from an inipi (the equivalent of a church or synagogue) during a service.
The tremendous lack of respect for the Standing Rock tribe leaves the Sioux people in a state of dismay that doesn’t show any signs of being resolved quickly or smoothly, and it has already caused more damage than necessary. The trust between tribes and government lessens each day, making it more difficult to reach a resolution between the two where the pipeline is rerouted far from the Missouri river, the tribe compensated for the poverty that the government placed upon them, and the authorities charged and penalized for their excessive and unnecessary uses of force.
For corporations who see the land, the pipe means no more than cash in their pockets. For the Standing Rock tribe, the pipe is an unwelcome end to life as they know it.
Header Photo Picture: Fibonacci Blue/ Flicker