The Largest Native American Protest Is Happening Now—and Why It Matters

The Largest Native American Protest Is Happening Now—and Why It Matters

By Mark Boyer

 Native American 2016


We live in times when there is often preference for what is new over what is old. Things are consumed or thrown away, so that they can be replaced by something shiny, new, and maybe a bit faster. This frenzy has too frequently led to a false belief that everything (and everyone) is replaceable. In the midst of this rush, our indigenous cultures around the world have been urgently saying we are in danger of losing our earth and our soul.

The most recent outcry has been in North Dakota (United States) where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lives. If you have not heard of a series of events related to the Dakota Access Pipeline, you are not alone. And yet, this may be the most important story of our time. This is about whether we blindly pursue progress and an insane sense of unlimited profits, or begin to take a look at how our choices impact our deeper understanding of life, interdependence, and future generations. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline is slated to become the largest oil pipeline in the U.S., which would accommodate North Dakota oil reserves and the fracking boom. The 3.8 billion dollar pipeline would transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily through the Dakotas, Iowa, and Illinois for more than 1,150 miles across farmlands, wildlife areas, and multiple major waterways like the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Investors in the development of this potentially huge for-profit pipeline with Energy Transfer Partners include Citibank, Bank of America, HSBC, UBS, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, BNP Paribas, SunTrust, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Misuho Bank, TD Securities, ABN AMRO Capital, DNB First Bank of Philadelphia, DNB Bank of Norway, ICBC London, SMBC Nikko Securities, SociétéGénérale, JPMorgan Chase, and others. In short, a lot of big time players.

Meanwhile Energy Transfer Partners has assured everyone that there is no danger of leaks from this pipeline. A simple check on Wikipedia of “List of Pipeline Accidents in the U.S. in the 21st Century” shows, however, that there have been hundreds of devastating environmental leaks from pipelines in the last 15 years.

Part of the Dakota Access Pipeline is being built near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. The tribe says the pipeline disrupts sacred sites, intrudes on past treaty agreements, and is an imminent danger to their water supply since it passes underneath the Missouri River – the main source of water for the reservation. An earlier proposal had the pipeline crossing the Missouri north of Bismark, but officials were concerned about the risk to the capital’s water supply in the event of a pipeline spill. So concern about Bismark water supply caused the pipeline to be moved near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The Standing Rock Sioux have banded together as dedicated protectors of their environment. They have been confronted by pipeline security guards with attack dogs and pepper spray. They have chained themselves to construction equipment. They have ridden their horses in the pathway of construction.

A frequent cry of these Native Americans is: “Water is Life.” And their cry has been heard by all Native Americans across the United States. Now all tribes of the Sioux and thousands of people from tribes throughout the United States have gathered at Standing Rock in a massive show of solidarity. This is a larger gathering of Native Americans than Little Bighorn or Wounded Knee.

While communities from Flint (Michigan) to New Orleans (Louisiana) have been compromised by injustice, Native Americans are taking a strong stand for the environment and life. They are not concerned for only their own well being, but also for the 17 million people downstream from them. They recognize we are all interdependent. They know we do not live in a replaceable world.  Many of the Native Americans who have traveled to Standing Rock speak of this as a spiritual reawakening and a re-commitment to their role as protectors of the land, water, and the air we breathe.

Much of the Dakota Access Pipeline has already been built, but Native Americans have temporarily succeeded in stalling construction in the Standing Rock Sioux area of North Dakota. After a federal ruling supported construction, President Obama stepped in to request further assessment. The Department of Justice, the Army, and the Interior Department are responsible for review of permitting decisions for the pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act.  By the time this article is published, a decision may have been determined.

The Lakota Sioux in Standing Rock often refer to the pipeline as the black snake. They have an ancient prophecy that speaks of a black snake crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation.

Hopefully we will all learn to listen more openly and trustingly to old and wise ways in the midst of perceived progress and profits.


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