History classes tend to stress one common lesson: in order to study current events, we must study the course of events that led up to them. The cause of some current events is difficult to pinpoint, while it is immediately evident for others.
One such clear instance is the perpetuation of infringement upon Native American land and rights. From forced relocation in abhorrent conditions (Trail of Tears anyone?) to current violation of human rights by construction projects (such as the present issue with the Dakota Access Pipeline built in the Standing Rock Reservation), the moral atrocities committed against these people since the dawning of European settlement have been numerous and obvious.
The consequences have been devastating. Thousands of displaced people have died due to relocation. Not to mention, millions of languages and cultures have been forgotten due to assimilation. Many more have been killed in protests against the destruction of their ways of life. Before European settlement, Native Americans could be found all throughout North America, but today, they make up less than 1% of the United States’ population, according to the National Congress of American Indians.
This is not something we have to scour history books to find. This is something blatant, something obvious, something we have been taught to cast aside and ignore. Knowing this, how can we stand idly by and watch construction on the Standing Rock Pipeline progress?
The pipeline, which will connect oil fields from North Dakota to Illinois, will desecrate sacred burial grounds, some of the last remnants of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s ancestors. If we keep wiping such important heritage sites off the map, what’s to stop the eventual erasure of an entire race of people in the name of corporate greed?
This is aside from the much more imminently concerning issue: the pipeline will contaminate the Missouri river, which is the main water source for the reservation as well as millions of people living downstream, according to members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
How is it that our morality has regressed so much that the right to drinkable water is debatable? How can we comfortably say that protests are even necessary in order to obtain what is essential to human survival? Why is this controversial?
We are unaffected, and this is our privilege. Being able to debate both sides without concern, at the end of the day, for how we’ll be able to get our water is a privilege. We must not and cannot ethically take advantage of this and turn a blind eye.
If the oversight of human damage to further our economy isn’t enough, the very people opposing this process are being countered almost militaristically. Protesters are violently arrested and subdued with pepper spray and other violent tactics. K-9 forces have even been used to attack and maim protesters, according to democracynow.org.
The purpose of all this? The corporation in charge, Energy Transfer Partners, lists its benefits as an increase in and facilitation of daily crude oil production. It will be direct and cost effective. As if we couldn’t have continued without it.
In recent news, the protest has been taken to the United Nations, in which the leaders of the community will be appealing internationally to draw attention to the problem. In Standing Rock itself, 4,000 protesters are currently camped around the pipeline and are singing and performing traditional songs and dances in order to venerate the ancestors being violated by this construction project.
The U.S. Army and departments of Interior and Justice have asked the company to halt progress on the project within a 20-mile area around Lake Oahe in North Dakota, but the U.S. Court of Appeals said that the tribe had not met the necessary conditions in order to obtain an injunction, such as evidence for the existence of irreparable harm.
Therefore, the company may continue construction in other parts of the area. According to the Huffington Post, protesters argue that the potential “irreparable harm” was not properly investigated, and the Standing Rock Sioux have said that they were not properly consulted.
Morality involves more than correctly aligning one’s principles. Morality involves action, action including prayers, monetary contributions, and the spread of information to help the people of Standing Rock.
History, among its key purposes, is meant to be a tool. We study our ancestors in order to better our modern society. The crimes committed against all Native Americans have been blatant historical staples, and it is our responsibility, as past and present students of history, to act against any recurrence of these tragedies.