“The Indians must conform to ‘the white man’s ways,’ peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must,” said Bureau of Indian Affairs Commissioner Thomas Morgan in 1889.
This insidious belief sent destructive ripples churning throughout the course of American history, an articulation of violence, genocide and cruelty. It’s an attitude which began long before the Allotment Act of 1887, an act that stripped tribal lands from 138 million acres to 46 million over the course of 47 years. This dismissive treatment of Native rights and culture arose when the first white settlers crept up on the unfamiliar shores of North America and pushed westward in the narcissistic throes of Manifest Destiny; it has not stopped since.
Waves of racial destruction are still rippling through modern society and are currently crashing down in the plains of North Dakota, at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
One mile north of the reservation, a great “black snake” winds its way towards the Missouri River. Flanked by bulldozers, mercenary-esque security armed with dogs, policemen in riot gear carrying assault rifles and driving Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs), the “black snake,” or Dakota Access Pipeline, pushes towards the thousand peaceful protesters that have gathered to end its encroachment on the river.
The pipeline will carry crude oil from the Bakken shale of North Dakota, 1,134 miles to Patoka, Illinois. It will be capable of transporting more than 450,000 barrels of crude, hydro-fracked oil per day through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois.
Filled with heavy crude oil, laden with toxic fracking chemicals, the pipeline is a threat to the tribe’s only water source and will pass under the Missouri river one mile from their reservation. If the pipeline were to break, it would be devastating to the tribe.
In the continental U.S., nearly 8,000 pipeline incidents have occurred since 1986. These have resulted in over 500 deaths, 2,300 injuries and $7 billion in damage and losses, according to The Center for Biological Diversity. In 2013, a rupture in the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas left a community badly damaged, environmental and air toxins persistent weeks later, including benzene and toluene; this is just one example of hundreds in the last few years.
The Standing Rock Sioux have all the reason in the world to worry about their water.
Reuters released an investigative report regarding Sunoco Logistics, the subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners that will run the Dakota Access Pipeline after its construction. Sunoco is the operator with the highest number of crude oil incidents in the U.S., leaking 3,406 barrels over the last 6 years.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a punitive settlement with Sunoco just earlier this year. Again in September, the EPA slapped Sunoco with corrective action after its new Permian Express II pipeline in Texas leaked 800 barrels of oil.
It is not surprising why members of the Sioux community have gathered to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline since April.
Now, over 100 other tribes and a multitude of allies have gathered as water protectors to fight the construction. The pipeline will cross through sacred territory and burial sites the tribe lost through forced laws and treaties such as the Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Severalty Act.
The water protectors have been met with extreme force and oppressive action, surely meant to subdue them into compliance with the “white man’s ways”: the ways of oil, greed, and cultural and environmental destruction.
Most recently, on Oct. 28, 141 protectors were violently arrested. LRAD sound cannons, mace, tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds and flash-bang grenades, were used to disperse peaceful and praying water protectors. The protectors had erected a new opposition camp directly in the path of construction just days before. Two hundred militarized policemen confronted the camp.
According to The Guardian, the arrested were later held in makeshift cages in an underground parking garage with little access to healthcare and facilities, and protesters reported having numbers written on their arms in ways reminiscent of concentration camps.
Water protectors reported the use of stun grenades and the presence of snipers at the Oct. 28 action. A no-fly zone, with the exception of police aircraft, was issued over the recently erected protest encampment that stood directly in the path of the construction. This left protesters unable to monitor police activities with drones; their drones were shot down with rubber bullets, according to DemocracyNow.
A teenage boy on horseback with shot off his horse with rubber bullets; the Huffington Post reported his horse was killed in the incident.
“These police were actively trying to hurt people, pushing them back to allow construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. They were defending monetary interests as human beings were being physically hurt,” Tara Housaka, National Campaign Director for Honor the Earth, told DemocracyNow.
Housaka saw teenagers maced directly in the face, people shot with rubber bullets and bean bag rounds, water protectors ripped from the front line and beat with clubs. (Visit DemocracyNow.org for video footage)
This is not the first violent incident the water protectors have faced. Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based oil corporation in charge of the $3.8 billion project demonstrated their aggressive tactics one day after the tribe filed an injunction to stop construction on land they had identified as an ancestral burial ground. The next day, the company bulldozed the land and guards armed with dogs clashed with the peacefully protesting water protectors, resulting in vicious dog bites and injuries to the water protectors.
“This was an all-out war that was waged on indigenous people that were peacefully assembling,” said Houska.
There is no current information on injury totals, yet plenty of injuries can be seen on live streams and video footage released by the water protectors and journalists.
Hundreds of protectors have been arrested in the past few months; many on false or trumped-up charges, including journalists attempting to cover the story which has been mostly ignored by mass media. Arrests for minor misdemeanors have included strip searches, (famous actress Shailene Woodley described her strip-search arrest to DemocracyNow) violent beatings and reported broken bones.
The oppression does not stop with the rights of Native Americans; authorities in North Dakota have actively suppressed the First Amendment right of freedom of the press.
Videographer Deia Schlosberg faces three felony charges and 45 years in prison for doing her job and filming a protest action in Walhalla, N.D. DemocracyNow’s journalist and anchor Amy Goodman faced felony trespassing charges after filming the Sept. 3 action. Several other journalists have been arrested on similar charges.
This fight has clearly grown larger than just the water and environmental impacts fracking and oil pipelines bring to the land and the American people; it is a clear message that corporate oil business will stop at nothing, unless we stop them. They will leave nothing for future generations, just poisoned water and poisoned grounds.
“Our Tribe can no longer sacrifice our sacred water, our graves and our Mother Earth, and our future generations for the financial gain of private industry which has shown no regard for our rights or concerns,” wrote Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault.
Why should you care about all this, 3,000 miles away and safe in your sleepy Oregon towns? Because if the police can militarize against peaceful, civil disobedience with state support at the behest of oil corporations in North Dakota, they can do it here, too. The fight for the sanctity of water and American human rights is on the line in Standing Rock, and don’t kid yourself into thinking this will not affect you. The state police and national guard are protecting oil interest on land that should belong to the Standing Rock Sioux. The federal government and Army Corps of Engineers stand by, complicit in the human rights violations ocurring in North Dakota and the destruction of sacred sites.
On Oct. 31, the United Nations sent a group to investigate the allegations of human rights violations.
This just got serious, folks.
I implore you to take note of the events in North Dakota. Do not bury your head in the sand; instead stand tall. Stop the racial violence and discrimination. Reroute the pipeline. Stand with Standing Rock. #NODAPL
Column by Emily Goodykoontz