Two months ago, the North Dakota Sioux tribe celebrated a victory. The Access pipeline that was to run through their sacred lands and underneath the Mississippi River was officially blocked by a Department of the Army, who said there was a need to explore alternate routes. This event marked a major turnabout in the history of Native Americans, as they fought for their rights as first-class citizens and actually won. Unfortunately, this year, with new administration came new rules. And President Trump, on his fifth day (first week) in office, immediately signed off on once again beginning the approval process of the Dakota pipeline. With one signature, he destroyed all the efforts of former President Obama and the Native Americans to protect the environment and their rights.
In order to understand the significance of what Trump has just done, a backstory is required. A company called Energy Transfer Partners decided to purchase an oil pipeline that would run through the state of North Dakota, carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels a day, and creating thousands of jobs at the same time. The original pipeline was supposed to go through a town called Bismarck, but the residents shut the idea down pretty quickly as they feared it would harm their water supply. So the company rerouted it onto tribal lands. And when the Native Americans also said they didn’t want to have it on their lands because they feared it would harm their water supply, the federal government responded with water cannons and attack dogs.
The official protest began in September 2016, with Native Americans traveling from all over the country, like California, Oregon, and even Alaska to support their people. By November, the movement had received support from major celebs like Nikki Reed, Pastor Jesse Jackson, and Shailene Woodley. There was an outpouring of support from people all over the country. And then finally, President Obama declared the pipeline illegal, and the battle was won. Not only was it a victory for Native Americans, but also proof that protest works.
And then Trump took office. It was expected that he would try and begin the pipeline’s construction again, but nobody expected it to happen so quickly. This leaves protesters with a dilemma. Should they protest again or should they let him win?
Trump’s support of the company raised some suspicion when it was revealed that he actually owned stocks in the company. And even though his spokeswoman Hope Hicks claimed that he sold it back in June of 2016, there is no evidence to back it up. This pipeline, if approved, poses a huge risk of contaminating the Mississippi River, which is the tribe’s only water supply. So not only is this a human right’s problem, it’s an environmental justice problem.
Even if the pipeline was deemed as safe by the US Army Corp of Engineers, pipelines in general, especially those built in the last 10-15 years, have had a history of sudden environmentally impactful leaks. So the Native Americans have every right to fight against this pipeline being built. But now, this decision rests in the hands of the US Army Corp of Engineers who will decide in the coming days whether or not the pipeline will, as President Trump would like to see, once again be approved for rebuilding.