Why The Dakota Pipeline Matters

By D. Allan Kerr

I see Native American protests raging against the Dakota Access Pipeline 2,000 miles away and I can’t help it – the first thought that flashes thru my mind is, why can’t these people be left in peace?

It’s not a question of political correctness; it’s a question of basic equality.

The project is part of a nearly 1,200-mile, $3.8 billion proposed pipeline to transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois. There are some absolutely valid benefits to this plan, perhaps the most notable being that it promotes independence from foreign sources.

But I find it interesting that the plan initially called for the pipeline being constructed by Energy Transfer Partners to pass about ten miles north of Bismarck, the state capital of North Dakota. About 92 percent of the population of Bismarck is white, according to 2010 census figures.

That might be irrelevant, but I’ll throw it out there anyway.

One of the reasons cited for the re-routing of the pipeline is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined it represented a threat to the municipal water supply, according to The Bismarck Tribune. It would have also passed thru something called a “high consequence area.”

So instead, the plan was revised in 2014 to allow the pipeline to cross the Missouri River south of Bismarck but about half-a-mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, home to about 8,000 tribal members.

Apparently, the reservation was not considered a “high consequence area.” Not to the guys putting in the pipeline, at least.

But over the past several months, protestors have argued the pipeline now threatens their water supply – the same Missouri River which provides for the city of Bismarck. It also disrupts sacred tribal burial grounds and ancestral lands, they say.

The plan calls for 450,000 barrels of oil a day to pass thru a 30-inch-wide pipeline. If the line were to leak near the intake valves of the reservation’s water supply, the consequences would be disastrous, according to reservation leaders. The line is supposed to pass more than 90 feet underneath the river.

protestors have argued the pipeline now threatens their water supply

The tribe challenged the project in federal court, and the Corps of Engineers is holding off on issuing final approval for the pipeline to proceed. Energy Transfer Partners has filed a request for a court order to complete the project without further federal intervention.

Meanwhile, President Obama has apparently decided to sit the whole thing out and President-To-Be Trump is an ETP investor, so it’s not likely protestors will get much sympathy there.

Now protestors find themselves in a standoff with law enforcement agencies and subjected to water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Native American tribes from all over the country have joined in challenging the pipelines, along with other self-described “water protectors.”

One 21-year-old New York woman is in danger of losing her arm due to an explosion both sides are blaming on each other.

According to media reports, Border Patrol agents – usually tasked with keeping illegal immigrants out of the United States – will help police the Native American protestors at the site. The irony of that statement sums up this entire situation with poetic perfection.

Two and a half years ago, we embarked on a family road trip out West to celebrate a milestone birthday for my lovely bride. Our journey at one point brought us to the Pine Ridge Reservation in neighboring South Dakota, and I recall even then talking with a Native American guy, an Army veteran selling handcrafted jewelry on the roadside, about their concerns over an oil pipeline passing thru that part of the country.

I don’t think many people would dispute the fact that the genocide of Native Americans, rife with massacres and broken treaties, represents some of the more disturbing chapters of our history. And I remember finding it hard to believe they were still be subjected to this “second-class citizen” type of treatment.

But I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t realize things had gotten to this point until a talented young actress named Shailene Woodley – whom we like a lot in our household – was arrested with fellow protestors in October and posted it all on social media.

The proposed pipeline route doesn’t actually pass thru the Standing Rock reservation, and maybe that’s why planners thought it would okay to put it there. But it’s worth noting that the reservation itself is smaller than originally intended back in the mid-1800s.

For instance, the treaty creating the reservation included the stipulation that no land could be obtained there without the approval of three-fourths of the tribe’s adult male population. However, in 1877 the U.S. Congress passed an act removing the sacred Black Hills from Sioux ownership – after gold was discovered there.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”

More than 40 years ago, a group of residents in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire – part of my neck of the American woods – challenged and defeated a proposed oil refinery in Durham, backed by Aristotle Onassis, one of the richest, most powerful men in the world. They weren’t subjected to water cannons in freezing temperatures or anything of the sort, because when they spoke out against the plan lawmakers listened.

Folks seem to be listening now about the Standing Rock protests, but you have to wonder why it had to get to this point in the first place.

(November 28, 2016)

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