The construction of the Dakota access pipeline has been making news headlines for the past few weeks. The standoff between law enforcement and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe over the controversial pipeline implementation has caused actors and actresses such as Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley, as well as individuals across the nation, to stand in solidarity with the tribe. Recent violence at the protest site has incited controversy between police and the protesters involved.
Though oil is a necessary commodity, this standoff serves as an opportunity for the American government to step in and make reparations for what has widely been accepted as the genocide of multiple indigenous cultures.
Native American tribes and their respective reservations are considered domestic dependent reservations. If they are considered a nation with a degree of sovereignty, why does the United States government not intervene with the construction of the pipeline when indigenous people are expressing concerns of their own wellbeing? Especially if that group of people has already undergone so much oppression by the U.S. But there appears to be no exception here.
There is the argument that sacrificing the good of the few for the good of the many is worth the efforts taken to get there. But what if those few have been oppressed since the foundation of the U.S.? And what if the end product is not good for all, anyway? It only perpetuates the continued consumption of oil – something we should be moving to siphon off in coming years.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s main argument is that the pipeline will disrupt sacred burial grounds, a place where they get in contact with their ancestors, and poison their water supply. They are also expressing concern that the pipeline could contaminate their water supply. This argument is valid. In less than 50 years, the U.S. alone has seen, “44 oil spills over 10,000 barrels (420,000 gallons) affecting U.S. waters,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Such disasters have contaminated water for thousands and destroyed local wildlife habitats in the process.
Sure, the contractors building the pipeline claim that it is very unlikely any such event would take place. However, this would not be the first time a petroleum company forcefully endangered local populations for the sake of their own wealth. Take fracking, for example. The water used to release natural gas captured in the earth has poisoned dozens of wells, as reported by National Geographic.
“Reports have surfaced in some locations, including Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Colorado, of wastewater, spills, or other fracking sources polluting or draining water supplies, leaking explosive gases into drinking water systems, or depleting wells,” National Geographic reported.
Not only would government intervention mitigate an oil-related disaster to an already battered community, but it would allow for the mending of old bonds. Native Americans have undergone unthinkable hardships, and it was often white people’s doing. Rather than subject these people to more harm, the government would do well to try to make up for some of the atrocities committed in the past. Though it is too late and the damage has been done, a positive future for these people is what the U.S. government should be striving for.
This would not only speak to making up for wrongs committed in the past, but it would also be an outward statement showing that Americans do not tolerate corporations and lobbyists bullying the little guys into submission. It would fight against the types of greed that have plagued American politics since the Industrial Revolution. It would say we value the health of our environment and respectful relationships with other groups more than guzzling more oil and making more money.