Sioux Pipeline Standoff: Environment and Culture at Risk?

Protesters have been fighting the construction of the Dakota pipeline since the summer of 2016 on the grounds that it will damage the environment and threaten cultural sites. Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the protest along with some politicians and religious figures. On Oct. 27, the police cleared all picket lines and removed the protesters. According to CNN, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said that the protest is a public safety issue and that protestors cannot block roads and highways, or trespass on private property.

On Nov. 21, the protests reached a new climax when, according to Sacred Stone Camp, “Hundreds of water protectors were injured at the Standing Rock encampments when law enforcement blasted them with water cannons in freezing temperatures. Law enforcement also shot down three media drones and targeted journalists with less lethal rounds.”

Throughout American history, Native Americans have been banished from their lands and moved west. The construction of this pipeline represents a revival of what tribes had to endure in the past.

While some people may argue that this project creates job positions, others are concerned about the contamination of drinking water and destruction of sacred lands. Among these people are the Sioux tribe and activists. The Dakota Access crude oil pipeline will cross the Missouri River just upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which has belonged to the tribe since the 19th century upon signing a treaty with the U.S.

According to the National Archives, “The Black Hills of Dakota are sacred to the Sioux Indians. In the 1868 treaty, signed at Fort Laramie and other military posts in Sioux country, the United States recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people. In 1874, however, General George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills accompanied by miners who were seeking gold. Once gold was found in the Black Hills, miners were soon moving into the Sioux hunting grounds and demanding protection from the United States Army. Soon, the Army was ordered to move against wandering bands of Sioux hunting on the range in accordance with their treaty rights. In 1876, Custer, leading an army detachment, encountered the encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn River. Custer’s detachment was annihilated, but the United States would continue its battle against the Sioux in the Black Hills until the government confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the U.S. government and the Sioux.”

The paragraph above can help draw a parallelism between the 19th and the 21st century since a conflict of interests is seen. Despite the arguments for and against the construction of this pipeline, there are certain issues at stake. The removal of the tribe would be inevitable should the water become polluted. In addition, the violation of the 1868 treaty would be the last straw in the series of disputes over the land between the U.S. government and the Sioux. Finally, the overall impact on the environment has yet to be tested. According to Merrit Kennedy, the company building the $3.8 billion pipeline maintains that it will be safe.


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