What You Need to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline
The controversy surrounding the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline continues to occupy media headlines. For two months, the Standing Rock Sioux and outside supporters have clashed with government and corporate officials in attempts to stop construction of the 1,172-mile pipeline that crosses into the tribe’s sacred land and water supply.
The developer in charge of the multi-billion dollar project, Energy Transfer Partners, recently reported that nearly 60 percent of the pipeline was already complete in a company memo last month, but the heated protests and occupation of the site haven’t stopped. Only twelve days ago, 27 activists — including actress Shailene Woodley — were arrested on charges of rioting and criminal trespassing.
Despite the court’s denial of the tribe’s lawsuit seeking to halt construction, even the Obama administration has urged the company to voluntarily halt construction on the disputed work-site.
Facts About the Pipeline
The pipeline will run from Northwestern North Dakota through four states to Patoka, Illinois. This will connect the Bakken and Three Forks production areas to the existing facilities in Illinois.
Once completed, the pipeline will transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil daily, decreasing dependence on foreign oil and creating thousands of jobs for state and local economies. The drilling area in North Dakota has been said to have some 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered oil.
Why Is The Pipeline So Controversial?
Despite claims by the developer that the pipeline construction is the safest and most cost-effective way to retrieve and transport the oil, the native people disagree. The Standing Rock Sioux oppose the construction of the pipeline because of the close proximity to reservation lands.
They cite dangers to their health and welfare should there be a spill or leak any time in the future. The proposed project would run through the tribe’s water supply as well as burial sites, which the tribe holds extremely sacred.
The Standing Rock Sioux describe these issues on their website, noting the pipeline passes a half-mile upstream from the reservation boundaries under the Missouri River by Lake Oahe. Should a spill occur, the consequences would be catastrophic both economically and culturally for the tribe. Furthermore, the pipeline would also cross through areas that hold great cultural significance — spaces federal laws are in place to protect.
The Roots of a Movement
Their concerns began as a small protest in April, and have now grown into the Sacred Stone Camp, which at any one time has over 1,000 people actively protesting the construction of the pipeline.
The tribe filed a lawsuit in July hoping to block the construction, but the injunction was denied — even though the original location of the pipeline was moved specifically for the concerns that the Standing Rock Sioux have themselves.
When the project was proposed, the original location of the pipeline would have run across the Missouri River near Bismarck. Had a spill occurred, this location would have caused a catastrophe for the state capital’s water supply, so it was moved close to tribal lands.
Naturally, the Standing Rock Sioux are angry, especially when you consider that the land being used for this proposed portion of the pipeline was land taken from the tribe in 1958 without their consent.
This heated issue does nothing to show that relations between the U.S. government and indigenous people have improved over the years. In fact, it would seem it is the opposite. If government and corporate officials had consulted the tribe prior to changing the location of the pipeline, they would have learned it ran through sacred spaces and burial grounds.
Building on their Rich Cultural Heritage for Protests
Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, maintains that these concerns about safety regarding the pipeline constructions are completely unfounded, but it’s now become about more than that. The protest has turned into a fight for the rights of native people everywhere in the country. It’s a symbol for social justice and respect for those we have already taken so much from.
One protestor told NPR’s Jeff Brady that the protest of the pipeline construction has become more about the people’s rights to their native land and their right to worship freely and without fear of destruction of their sacred spaces, as well as their rights to clean water and a place to call home.
The tribe has smartly highlighted its rich cultural history to draw the attention of the media to the cause, while also constructing this as a universal issue for Native Americans. It’s just one more example of the government strong-arming a tribe, and alas, history is full of others.
How Can You Get Involved?
Besides actually going to the site to protest with the Standing Rock Sioux, there are other ways to get involved in raising awareness for Native American rights and helping with the cause in North Dakota. You can contact the local and state government officials by calling or writing, signing petitions or using social media outlets to help spread the word or you can venture into the world of crowdfunding.
Before you go out and set up your own page to help the cause, be sure to check for official efforts by the organization. You’ll want to be sure your actions have the most effective impact for large-scale initiatives, to avoid duplicating someone else’s efforts. To make a difference in the outcome of the Standing Rock Sioux’s efforts, the idea is to work together.
There is no valid reason we should still be witnessing this type of injustice in 2016. There should be and must be another solution for the completion of this project.