The Dakota Access Pipeline: Understanding the Controversy
If you thought US law protects Native Americans, you'd be wrong.
In North Dakota, an oil pipeline is being built on one of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s sacred tribal sites and few news outlets seem to be covering the story in a meaningful way.
The Dakota Access pipeline will carry crude oil from the Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Illinois. It is a massive project, and the company responsible for it is touting its safety and reliability, as well as its commitment to protect landowner interests.
However, in North Dakota the pipeline is planned to cross areas beneath areas of the Little Missouri and Missouri rivers that not only provide drinking water to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and millions of others downstream, but also are designated as sacred tribal sites and wildlife protection zones.
So the Standing Rock Sioux filed a lawsuit against federal regulators for approving the pipeline. The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 24.
In the meantime, construction of the pipeline has begun after it was given the go-ahead by North Dakota state officials. In response to the concerns voiced by the Standing Rock Sioux, North Dakota Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Kevin Baskins stated: “The bottom line is that they will go around the area by going underneath it.”
But members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes from other nearby reservations aren't giving up hope. They have been protesting to halt construction of the pipleline, and on Aug. 12, Dave Archambault, the Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, pictured above, was arrested for disorderly conduct and pushing back on a police line.
Upon being released from jail Archambault was also hit with a lawsuit from the pipeline company demanding restraining orders and "unspecified monetary damages."
Eighteen other men and women from the Standing Rock Sioux have also been arrested over the course of protests.
The protesters argue that the National Historic Preservation Act, which encourages the “protection of Native American cultural items” in line with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), which formally grants Native Americans the right to access sacred sites and requires all government agencies to “eliminate interference with the free exercise of Native religion," are being violated.
Even though AIRFA and other laws have repeatedly failed to protect sacred sites and have been proven nearly unenforceable, most notably during the case Lying vs. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, the Standing Rock Sioux still see these laws that were passed by Congress as laws designed to protect Native American rights and culture.
This is understandable, as everything from the titles of the laws to the words within them would lead one to think that they do indeed protect Native American rights and culture.
However, in form sadly consistent with American history to date, the Standing Rock Sioux’s belief that the US has made laws protecting them has landed their chairman and several of its members in jail.
Local news outlets have been attentive to the story, and the Standing Rock Sioux have even attracted the attention of Hollywood stars like Rosario Dawson, Shailene Woodly, and Riley Keough. Despite this, it has not gained major traction in the national media.
Few nationwide news outlets have covered the protests or grievances of the Standing Rock Sioux in depth, and those that have cannot seem to see that this story is bigger than an oil pipeline.
So here we stand again after nearly 500 years of abusing, ignoring, and violating previously negotiated laws and treaties with Native Americans. Let's not repeat the errors of the past.