The Unrest Surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline

Staff writer Juliana Perez ’17 breaks down the controversy surrounding the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and looks into the environmental, social justice and spiritual reasons that people are protesting. 

The Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company has two choices: they can either build a pipeline that stretches from North Dakota to Illinois in order to deliver hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day, or they can refrain from doing so, and protect, rather than destroy, the spiritual grounds of the North Dakota Native reservations.

It seems as though the company has chosen to do the latter, but the Native Americans of this region have not given up yet. This is a fight that has been going on since the beginning of 2016. The Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company designed this pipeline so that 400,000 barrels of oil per day can be transported, as opposed to 200,000 barrels that is transported daily by trucks and railways. The pipeline is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

While this pipeline sounds like the solution to transport more oil quickly, it will invade Native American reservations, specifically sacred sites and parts of the Missouri River where natives receive their drinking water.

Natives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, other Native tribes, and non-Native American allies have together protested in hopes that the Dakota Access Pipeline project be terminated. On October 9th, 2016, a federal appeals court ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, allowing the pipeline project to continue, and predicted to be completed by the end of 2016. However, due to the court’s decision, protestors are still fighting until they no longer can.

Dating back to early American history, Native American reservations are pieces of land owned by Native Americans, meaning they have their own laws separate from the United States’ and they are sovereign regions within the country. U.S. citizens need to be granted access by tribes to enter reservations. Although the Dakota Access Pipeline is not directly on the reservation land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, it imposes nearby land where the tribe claims as sacred. Building the pipeline would disrespect ancestors that were buried beneath that land, and it would have the potential to pollute the water sites that the tribe uses as a drinking source. If the pipeline were to burst, which, according to Dr. Sally Humphrey of Pipeline and Gas Journal, is often the case after about 33 years, the oil would spill into the water and destroy sacred lands surrounding the reservation.

Protests against the pipeline have persisted, but they have also become more violent each time. Timothy McLaughlin of Reuters News stated that on October 28th, 140 protesters were arrested, and police “in riot gear used pepper spray” to “disperse an estimated 330 protesters.” Amy Goodman from Democracy Now attended one of the protests in North Dakota where she captured the protesters driving contractors off the land. Contractors in bulldozers trampled parts of the surrounding river land, leaving it in ruins. As protesters approached the contractors yelling at them to stop, contractors sprayed protestors with mace and used guard dogs to attack them, resulting in nasty, bloody bites. In acts of defense, protestors tackled the contractors and chased them off, forcing them to leave the site with their guard dogs.

U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein of California, Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, have also taken a stance against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Together, they wrote a letter to President Barack Obama expressing that the pipeline “is not only a violation of tribal rights, but has the potential to cause more damage to sacred land.” Additionally, they expressed that the pipeline would not only destroy reservation land, but also have negative impacts to the climate in the future.

According to Bill McKibben of The New Yorker, the pipeline was originally supposed to be built right outside of a town near Bismarck, North Dakota. However, the people of Bismarck quickly reacted in protest, worried that an oil spill from the pipeline would ruin the state capital’s drinking water. As a result, the company relocated the pipeline to run through sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The demographic made up of the Bismarck area, where the pipeline was supposed to go through, is mostly wealthy and white, suggesting that their privilege from not only being a U.S. citizen, but also being white, assisted them with successfully protesting the pipeline.

Meanwhile, the Native protestors are determined to make the company respect their rights as it respected the rights of the people of Bismarck. The spirit of the protestors can be summarized by the words of Alexander Piechowski-Begay of the Lakota Tribe: “We’re still here, we’ll keep fighting the good fight, we’re beyond resilient. Nizhonigo K’eh bee ahil naanish (Working together in harmony).”


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