Dakota Access Pipeline Perspectives - Native Lives Also Matter.

Original Founding Fathers, 2013 (credit: David Behrens)

Original Founding Fathers, 2013 (credit: David Behrens)

In August 2016, thousands of protestors and Native American tribes from all across America began a movement. They stood alongside the North Dakota Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to overturn the Army Corps of Engineers' permit to build the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), only a half-mile from their reservation. A month later, construction of the pipeline began, which culminated in a confrontation between thousands of protestors and security guards. President Obama's administration attempted to block the construction of the pipeline during his final days in office. This turned out to be unsuccessful as President Trump has since signed an executive action to advance approval of the DAPL.

Ever since January 2017, news on the Dakota Access Pipeline has been overshadowed by the numerous other executive orders from the Oval Office. With each latest breaking news story on What Trump Did Next, the media's focus strays further and further away from the Native American's struggle over the DAPL. As of now, the construction of the pipeline is all but complete except for a small segment that will cut through the federally managed land in North Dakota that was taken from the tribe in 1958. Although the media may no longer be actively covering the struggle over the DAPL, the Standing Rock Sioux and many other tribes have not stopped fighting for their rights.

Although the pipeline protests began last fall, for the past three years, Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman David Archambault II has been leading the resistance against the DAPL invading the Lakota territory.

In a recent release from the Standing Rock administration, Archambault II explained that the environmental threat of the pipeline is widely considered amongst Natives as a direct threat to their health and livelihoods. The tribe is currently leading protests in D.C. and continuing their legal efforts by focusing on spreading public awareness on indigenous rights.

For some tribe members, the most frustrating aspect of the national discussion on the DAPL is that the focus has been moved toward the climate change and environmental impacts, and away from the fact that native communities deserve equal human rights. When protestors emphasize climate justice in their argument against the pipeline, they are overlooking the core of this argument, which should be that indigenous people have a right to clean water and defending their way of life.

Keytha Fixico traveled from Arizona to volunteer at Standing Rock and protect people on the front line. (credit: Austin Peck/RYOT)

Keytha Fixico traveled from Arizona to volunteer at Standing Rock and protect people on the front line. (credit: Austin Peck/RYOT)

In a recent interview, Archambault II also mentioned that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is leading the fight to legally mandate tribal consent on infrastructure projects in the future, instead of current laws where companies only have to consult tribes.

The tribe also disputes the DAPL based on religious reasons. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe opposes the pipeline because its presence in the Missouri River will render the water impure for important ceremonies such as coming of age rites and sweat lodges.  Although these religious claims are legitimate, on March 7th, 2017 a federal judge said the Cheyenne River leaders waited too long to bring their religious concerns to court.

The DAPL protests represent the broader issue where Native rights in the U.S. aren't protected and end up being essentially ignored when profit is concerned. According to recent statistics, police kill more natives, per capita, than any other ethnic group or race. Although Native Americans make up only 2% of the population, many Natives agree with Harland McKosato, a member of Sac and Fox Nation, who says he is outraged by the unfair treatment of indigenous peoples that so often goes unnoticed. It seems that even when the tribes finally get some attention, the media positions the story as a struggle of environmentalism instead of the obvious violation of human rights.

Chairman Archambault II also mentions the recent media attention over the use of violence during the DAPL protests. He claims that the State of North Dakota along with the Trump Administration are trying to make the protestors appear as violent resistors. This, he says, is an effort to divert focus from the injustice of their own actions against the indigenous people and continue to ignore treaty rights. He goes on to say that, "The more we fight each other, the stronger our true enemies before. It’s the same tactics they’ve always used."

Protestors from tribal nations across the country recently came out to march in D.C. on the National Mall. Protesters were outraged that Donald Trump made an executive order to resume drilling for the DAPL only a month after the Obama administration suspended work on the pipeline. President of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Manual Pino, was outraged during the protests in D.C. stating that "This is complete ignoration of the government-to-government relationship that should exist between this country and indigenous peoples. Federal environmental laws have been completely overlooked for the benefit of big oil and the almighty dollar."

Another protestor from Bull Head South Dakota, JoBeth Brownotter pleaded for common decency, "Trump needs to know we can’t drink oil. The most important thing in Indian Country is water."

Many of the other Natives at the march echoed those thoughts. The precedent set by the Trump administration is frightening for many because what is happening with Standing Rock could happen to any tribe. During the protest, the chants, "Can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil," and "Mni Wiconi, water is life," could be heard over the songs and drums.

All of this connects back to the main message from the protestors that has been wholly ignored in media coverage. The members of Standing Rock are asking for the creation of a national dialogue on anti-Native policy. While climate change is very important and a necessary discussion the U.S. needs to have, the issue of the DAPL is so much more than pollution and climate justice. In this time where their entire way of life is in jeopardy, they need the rest of America to stand up to the Trump Administration to protect their rights and community.

Perhaps the most powerful bit of Archambault II’s words when arguing for the equality of his tribe is a fitting place to end this story on "People should not have to bear the sole risk for corporate gain. We have seen too many environmental disasters on tribal treaty resource in the United States. Enough is enough – treaty violations must be stopped."