When Christopher Columbus’ questionable sense of direction led him to the Americas in 1492, he started a 500-year genocide which persists until this day. The indigenous peoples of the Americas have long been persecuted by the United States government, and the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline is another instance of history repeating itself.
When Columbus arrived, there were roughly 10 million indigenous peoples in the area now known as the United States. By 1900, their population had been decimated through war, malnutrition and disease. Colonists went as far as to give blankets that they knew had been infected with smallpox to the native population in the hope of spreading the disease. Since the Native American population had been isolated from the “Old World” for so long, they were much more susceptible to the sickness.
The war against Native Americans has long involved the stealing of their land as well. The most infamous acquisition of Native American land occurred during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, when he forced about 100,000 Native Americans to leave the southern states, hand their land over to white settlers and migrate west to established reservations. However, that wasn’t the end of the United States’ grab for land. The California Gold Rush destroyed much of the local indigenous population, largely because the toxic chemicals used by the settlers irreparably damaged hunting grounds that the Native Americans relied on.
American school leaders attempted to ‘assimilate’ the indigenous population by removing the children of Native Americans from their tribes at a young age and forcing them to attend “white” schools and institutions. This very concept of assimilation, of course, is based on an idea of the ‘superiority’ of white institutions and cultures, and the attempts at assimilating Native American children are prevalent even today. In South Dakota, nearly 700 Native American children are annually taken from their homes and placed in the foster care system. The reasoning behind their placement into foster care is often questionable. States have financial incentive to take children from their homes — for each child taken, the state receives thousands of dollars from the federal government. The government in South Dakota has used this to their advantage and is essentially kidnapping Native American children from their families, a move which serves both to give money to the state government and to further the eradication of Native American culture.
Of course, the most prevalent government action against Native Americans right now is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The $3.8 billion pipeline would travel across the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois and shuttle up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the DAPL is the fact that the pipeline was originally supposed to travel through the capital of North Dakota, Bismarck. However, due to fears that the pipeline could accidentally contaminate the municipal water supply, they moved it — right into the path of the Standing Rock Sioux’s Tribe’s main sources of drinking water. The pipeline would also traverse through areas that are culturally important to the tribe, including burial grounds and places of prayer, some of which have already been demolished by ongoing construction.
To say the situation seems pretty bad would be a drastic understatement. Protesters are getting injured as the police continue to abuse them (less than two weeks ago, a 21-year-old protester almost had to have her arm amputated as a result of injuries she received at the protests). One would think that now would be a good time for President Barack Obama to speak up. After all, he only has less than two months left in office, and President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t seem all that concerned about neither the rights of Native Americans nor the environment. Trump also owns shares in the parent company of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and this major conflict of interest means he would likely benefit from its construction.
Obama said in early November that he would let the situation “play out” and see if the Army Corps could find a way to reroute the pipeline. Obama has also kept quiet as the news came out last week that the Army Corps of Engineers would be shutting down protests due to “concern for public safety.”
This shouldn’t be surprising, given politicians’ long history of catering to the people with money rather than the people their government is supposed to protect. However, it certainly tarnishes the president’s legacy and has made him lose the respect of many of his supporters.
The truth of the matter is that those of us who realize the unfairness and injustice of the DAPL cannot wait for Obama to decide whether or not he wants to speak up or let events “play out.” We have to act now. There are many ways that you can help those at Standing Rock, even if you are not able to actively participate in the protests themselves. One way, of course, is to continue to spread the word about the atrocities taking place against the Native American population. You can also donate to the Standing Rock tribe or call the White House and tell Obama to speak out against the pipeline (many people underestimate the importance of calling and emailing their congressional representatives and politicians). One can also, if they have the financial means, donate to the Mni Wiconi Health Clinic, which is a free health clinic that helps aid protestors. The most important thing is to act now.
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