No Thanks Being Given In Standing Rock


Huffington Post

Protesters at Standing Rock

Gillian Smith, News, Science and the Environment

While most of America celebrates Thanksgiving last weekend, there’s one group for whom the mood is anything but celebratory. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota are continuing into their eighth month, and tensions between the police and protesters continues to rise.

In July, the Standing Rock Sioux sued the federal Army Corps for violation of several laws, due to the pipeline passing through their ancestral burial grounds, and the potential for a spill to ruin their only source of fresh drinking water. This last point is particularly stressful for those living in the area in light of the continued lack of action in Flint, Michigan after the water crisis that occurred there last year. The group is aware that all structures fail eventually, and that once a pipeline of this scale fails there is no going back.

However, the principle of this protest is one of a much higher scale. If Standing Rock is successful, it will insure that in the future the American government will consult First Nations groups before fast tracking projects on or near their land. Standing Rock is a fight for the little land rights that Native people have left, one last stand of a marginalized group refusing to give up the legal rights they have fought for since colonization.

The police are not backing down easily though. Despite the protests remaining peaceful, hundreds have been arrested so far simply for exercising their democratic right. Police groups are fighting protesters with tear gas, water cannons (particularly brutal considering the sub-freezing temperatures), and rubber bullets. Over a hundred activists were injured in one such clash alone, and medical areas near the site are bracing for the worst. The attacks continue in the media, with police spokespeople calling the actions “riots” in order to elicit a negative public response.

Perhaps the timing of this is only all too fitting. Thanksgiving has always been a holiday for ignoring Indigenous voices. While we all sit to celebrate the founding of a nation, we ignore the genocide brought with it. The first Thanksgiving celebrates the beginning of years of persecution of Native peoples, a persecution that Standing Rock proves continues to this day. It may have been hundreds of years since the first Thanksgiving, however the legacy of the genocide represented by the holiday only continues. Once that fact is recognized, maybe then we can be thankful.


Update, 06/12/16: 

As of December 4, construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline has been halted indefinitely. The Obama administration, in a final display of executive power, refused to permit the pipeline construction to continue, on the grounds that different routes need to be explored. This comes at a convenient time, recently after thousands of veterans joined the protest as a human shield to protect activists. Though many are celebrating this victory, we must be careful not to allow the US government to go back on their word. In just over a month, President-Elect Donald Trump will come into power, and it is very likely that this decision will be reversed by his administration. This shows great promise, so long as we the people don’t become complacent after one victory. We may have won a battle, but the war against fossil fuels is far from over.