The Dakota Access Pipeline has gained national attention as thousands of protestors have set up camp at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Even as the harsh winter months roll in, the indigenous people and their supporters are uniting in protest against the pipeline that could be installed beneath Indian land.
Aspen Navarro, geography resource and environmental studies senior, said she opposes the pipeline for environmental reasons, but as a Native American, there are many other reasons that she is against it.
“It’s getting past the point of just being disrespectful to the Native Americans—the Standing Rock tribe,” Navarro said. “It’s now going into disregard for the environment. I mean, complete inhumane activity is going on there.”
This “inhumane” activity in question is the effect of an oil pipeline being built by Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline will transport oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Field to a refinery in central Illinois.
According to the Energy Transfer Partners’ official website, “the pipeline will enable domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner. The pipeline will also reduce the current use of rail and truck transportation to move Bakken crude oil to major U.S. markets to support domestic demand.”
Though the Standing Rock Sioux have been the forerunners of the protest, hundreds of tribes, activists and volunteers across the nation are calling for the construction of the pipeline to halt; moreover, for its route to be altered, and directed away from the reservation.
Dr. Mario Garza, founder and Board of Elders’ Chair of the Indigenous Cultures Institute in San Marcos said this is the general stance for indigenous people regarding pipelines. Garza is also a member of the Miakan-Garza band of the Coahuiltecan people, and said the reservation sits on sacred burial sites; any disruption to these sites will interfere with the spiritual journey of the tribe’s ancestral remains.
Besides his fears regarding social injustice, Garza said the contamination of the tribe’s water presents the largest concern.
“When the Europeans came down and tried to get rid of all of the Indians, people think that all of that has stopped, but it has not stopped,” Garza said. “I mean this is a present day, perfect example of how they are still doing it. In the old days, they tried to slaughter all of the buffalo to do away with our food supply, now they are trying to do away with our drinking water.”
Dr. Jason Julian, associate professor in the department of geography, said that although pipelines are necessary for society to drive cars and have access to plastic, pipelines are typically always met with apprehension.
“The big concern with the Dakota Access Pipeline is it’s going to go underneath Lake Oahe, which is on the Missouri River, and that’s where the Sioux nation gets all of their water. (Energy Transfer Partners) put the pipeline in a place where it doesn’t intersect the water resource so the impact is minimal, but if there’s ever a leak, that leak can ultimately get to one of those water resources,” Julian said.
According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s website, there were 328 significant pipeline incidents in the U.S. in 2015, with 28 serious incidents occurring. Julian said these things can happen for a number of reasons.
“You have Earth movements, weather problems such as freezing (causing) pipes to corrode. A lot of times construction activity will hit a pipeline,” Julian said. “Pipelines leak over time.”
The U.S. Energy and Information Administration’s website states that the U.S. produced an average of about 9.4 million barrels of crude oil per day. While the oil industry is no doubt a major U.S. production, Navarro said that herein lies the problem.
“No matter what, oil is always going to be a big thing,” Navarro said. “We’ve seen many, many situations where oil has won, and it has also caused some very big environmental concerns that not a lot of people care about until after the fact that its actually happened.”
People can get involved by texting “WATER” to 82623, where a link will notify the sender how to donate to the protestors taking camp with Standing Rock. Navarro suggests voicing your opinion by writing letters to the president and the governor of North Dakota.
Tribes across the nation have shown their support through sending supplies, including the Miakan-Garza Band. Garza said they also sent their tribal flag to Standing Rock as a symbol of solidarity.
“Here people are being proactive, and caring about the environment, but also caring about their culture,” Navarro said. “It’s awesome how much this has really taken off.”