If there are two things that do not mix, they are clean drinking water and oil pipelines — specifically, oil pipelines subject to extremely lenient environmental reviews. The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline by Energy Transfer is the most recent form of injustice in a long and complex history between Native Americans and the U.S. government, yet there continues to be a lack of nationwide attention and mainstream media coverage.
Set to carry oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, Energy Transfer’s pipeline jeopardizes the cultural and physical well-being of Native American communities situated on the Missouri River. It surprised many when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the pipeline, but it was later revealed that loopholes enabled the project to evade proper environmental assessment. Under the Nationwide Permit 12, the pipeline was viewed as “several hundred” waterways instead of what it really is, one 1,172-mile oil-carrying pipeline.
Extending across the North and South Dakota border, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation faces dire consequences should crude oil spill from the pipeline. With a plan to transport 570,000 barrels of oil a day, any kind of Dakota access leak would cause monumental damage to the tribe’s water supply. On average, pipeline spills — whether crude oil, gasoline or liquid natural gas — occur approximately 121 times a year across the U.S.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux nation have noted that the oil could pollute not only drinking water, but also decimate plants with great cultural significance, such as sage,
mouse bean and buffalo berries. The proposed construction route for the pipeline has already desecrated Sioux burial grounds this past summer.
While the project is more than halfway completed, Native Americans, environmentalists and Midwestern landowners have expressed their anger at this injustice. The Sacred Stones protest camp has seen the largest assembly of Native American tribal representatives in over a quarter-century. Campaigns such as Rezpect Our Water have worked to bring together these different groups, with support from celebrities like Shailene Woodley and Leonardo DiCaprio. Tribal activists have also written letters to government officials and hosted a number of protests, including a 500-mile run.
Recently, Sioux tribe leader Dave Archambault II testified to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the pipeline, calling upon “all parties to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.” Archambault highlighted the U.S. government’s infringement upon the tribe’s sovereign rights, a sentiment not unlike one expressed by indigenous peoples during the period of European colonization in the Americas.
Such activism has not stopped Energy Transfer’s private security, however, from attacking demonstrators with dogs, pepper spray and zip ties. Both pregnant women and young
children have experienced injury. Even with proof of these assaults, the protesters, not the heads of Energy Transfer, are facing punishment. Amy Goodman, an award-winning journalist who shared videos of the attacks, is facing criminal charges for trespassing, which she claims is an attack on free press.
Even with such efforts, the protests have yet to garner as much nationwide attention as they should. Three major broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, have aired only one report on the protests since they began in April, with CBS Morning news giving only 48 words on the matter during a 4 a.m. broadcast in September. MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’Donnell only delivered commentary on the issue once during a broadcast on Aug. 25.
Even without mainstream coverage, social media has played an integral part in spreading awareness of the risks tied to the pipeline. With hashtags like #NoDAPL and the spread of slogans like “Water is Life” and “For Future Generations,” Native voices are louder now than they have ever been. It is imperative their voices and struggle continue to be heard, whether through retweeting, sharing Facebook posts or signing petitions. In the words of Sioux chairman Archambault, “the pipeline presents a threat to our lands, our sacred sites, and our waters, and the people who are affected must be heard.”
Kelsey Lawson is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. She is a member of the Native American Student Council.
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