Southern’s take on the Dakota Access Pipeline


Kaitlyn ReganSpecial to the Southern News

Professor Stephen Amerman, a professor of Native American history, said the Dakota Access pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are alerting more people that Native Americans and their culture did not die out or disappear at the end of the 1800s.

“People are aware they were severely mistreated in the past, but then people don’t tend to go beyond the 1800s with them and think well then if that all happened, then now it’s sad and tragic, but their history is over,” Amerman said.

According to NBC, David Archambault, Chairman of the Sioux Tribe, attended the United Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Archambault said the United States government has neglected two treaties from the 1800s that grant the Sioux tribe sovereignty of their land. One of the treaties is the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Amerman said the treaty was supposed to set aside land for Native people. He said Union General George Armstrong Custer was sent on an expedition for gold in the Black Hills and to fight the Indians, Custer helped pressure the treaty.

“Indians understandably retaliated and I think the United States used that as an excuse to say, ‘hey, we’ve gotta get these Indian people into line,’” Amerman said.  

More fighting ensued from there, Amerman said, culminating in The Battle of Little Big Horn, where Custer was defeated by the Native Americans in 1876. In 1877, the army went back in and forcibly subdued the lingering resistors and took more land from the Lakotas, he said.

The Dakota protests are similar to 1973 activist protests at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, said Amerman. He added the protests drew national attention and a group called the American Indian Movement came to support them.

“In 1890 a massacre occurred and in 1973 they were able to use the deep symbolism of that place to draw more attention to ongoing issues facing Indians,” Amerman said.

Susan Cusato, an earth science professor, said what makes this different from the Keystone Pipeline last year, is this pipeline is going through a reservation and protesters are concerned about their ancestral ground.  

“There’s no concern about impacting the environment in which they live,” said Cusato, “and it is really, again, just another slap in the face from the federal government allowing the dollar to become the most important thing.”

Cusato went onto say that there are two dangers in pipelines.

“There’s dangers’ in the placement and doing the whole pipeline itself: it disrupts the whole ecosystem and everything,” Cusato said. “They always say they’ll maintain it and then when it’s in, it will start to leak and how much damage will it do to the surrounding environments before it gets caught? Those are the two biggest threats.”    

Cusato said she would label the protest as a social justice and ecojustice issue. She said something that came up in one of her environmental classes is that people do not respect everybody’s cultural traditions and heritage.

“I mean they wouldn’t put it through Washington D.C. They can still go around it, it’ll just cost more money,” said Cusato. “So this isn’t an ethical thing. This is about are they willing to spend more money to divert it around these lands?”

James Tait, a science education and environmental studies professor, said one of the environmental issues is the pipeline would cross under the Missouri River, the reservation’s sole source of water. Tait agreed that it is a social justice and environmental issue.

Amerman said he could see the Obama administration siding with the tribe and stopping the oil pipeline progress. Barack Obama has not always pleased environmentalists with all of his decisions, he said, but he has halted development of the Keystone pipeline.

“Maybe he’ll feel like, ‘I’m only president for a few more months,’” Amerman said. “‘I’d like to go out with this as my legacy.’”

Photo Courtesy: Kaitlyn Regan

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