Police fired water cannons at DAPL protesters in freezing temperatures on Sunday, Nov. 20. The cannons were allegedly a response to fires started by the protesters, although other reports say that the fires were either meant to warm protestors or were started by flares shot by law enforcement. The incident took place near Highway 1806, where water protectors attempted to remove a barricade made up of burned-out vehicles that block transportation. The barricade was created to push people away from the construction areas of the Dakota Access Pipeline, but water protectors argue that the barricade puts people in danger by blocking emergency services from reaching them. Police also reportedly used concussion grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets, and hundreds of water protectors have been injured.
The pipeline is intended to stretch across several states and transport domestically-produced crude oil. Proponents of the pipeline argue that it will help to make the transportation of crude oil safer and more efficient, reduce the oil that we receive from other countries, and create local jobs.
The conflict centers on the pipeline’s infringement on Indigenous reservations in North Dakota, where the pipeline will purportedly endanger water supplies and desecrate the land.
The indigenous population isn’t wrong to worry about the water. There have been at least 1,000 oil pipeline incidents and 7 million gallons worth of spills in the U.S. in the past five years. Incidentally, one of those incidents was another North Dakota pipeline that spilled 20,000 barrels of oil after being struck by lightning. If the Dakota Access Pipeline is completed and anything like that were to happen again, it would spill oil into the Missouri River and contaminate the drinking water of thousands of people who live there.
I have seen arguments, usually in the form of social media comments, questioning why the desecration of land is an issue. The people on sacred burial grounds are already dead, some have argued, so why should it matter if they’re disturbed? I would like to think that respect is a good enough reason – not necessarily for the dead, but for the living people who care about the land. Nobody has the right to tell someone that their cultural beliefs and customs are wrong or don’t matter (unless, perhaps, those beliefs and customs hurt other people, but that’s not an issue in this case). There certainly isn’t anyone who has the right to say no one should be bothered by having their loved ones’ graves destroyed.
In the last several months, the peaceful protests of the pipeline have allegedly been met with rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, tasers, and, most recently, water cannons. There are often different reports about the peacefulness of the protests and the force used by the police, but I have some trouble believing that many of these items were used to put out fires, figuratively or literally. If they were, then the cannons should have been used to put the fires out, not aimed at the people who were trying to reopen Highway 1806.
This conflict is representative of a longer history of mistreating minorities generally and mistreating Indigenous people specifically. The list of ways that Indigenous people have been mistreated is a long one, but the item most closely related to this conflict is that the safety of one community has been prioritized over the safety of the reservations most affected by the pipeline. The original plans for the pipeline would have placed it closer to Bismarck, North Dakota, a city with a predominantly white population, partly because it would have risked their water supply.
If you are able and willing to go to Standing Rock, then I hope you do and that you are both safe and successful in helping water protectors. However, I know that many people who would like to help in person cannot do so for a wide range of reasons. So, I would like to offer a short list of other ways that you might be able to help:
Donate: The Stand with Standing Rock Web site offers information about how you can donate money to the cause. You can also donate supplies to Sacred Stone Camp. Their Web site provides a list of items they need, including sleeping bags, fur blankets, firewood, insulated coats, and other items that will keep them warm. Be careful when looking for information on how to make donations – some Web sites will ask for money that will never be sent to water protectors.
Sign the Petition: Not everyone has the ability to donate money or supplies, but you can still help in other ways. President Obama has temporarily halted the construction of the pipeline. The Stand with Standing Rock Web site asks that you sign a petition asking him to halt it permanently.
Keep the Conversation Going: People have been talking about this issue less often lately, probably because of other national issues that have understandably taken some of the spotlight. But we can’t forget about this. We can’t treat this like another news story that was “interesting” one week but forgotten the next because another news story has started making headlines. Share information about how to help and stories and videos from water protectors through social media. Use the noDAPL hashtag to promote the cause. Make phone calls or send emails to demand change. Make sure the people defending the pipeline know that we are watching and that we won’t forget the ways the authorities have treated Indigenous peoples.
There are a number of other ways that you can help water protectors. I encourage you to do whatever is within your means to end the violence at Standing Rock and to stand up for the people who live there.
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