Some 1,000 Native American activists from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and across the country faced off against police and security forces protecting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline project. Dozens of people have been arrested and assaulted by police while attempting to stop the project, and many more continue to risk arrest to protest the pipeline.
The Dakota Access pipeline, which is being built by Energy Transfer Partners, is planned to stretch 1,172 miles from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa, before ending in Illinois.
Dave Archambault II invoked treaty rights in his call to halt the pipeline, stating, “We don’t want this black snake within our Treaty boundaries.”
In 1851 and 1868, the Lakota (Sioux) signed the Fort Laramie Treaty with the U.S. government, creating the Great Sioux reservation, which included all of South Dakota west of the Missouri river. The treaty also protected hunting rights in the surrounding area, including where the pipeline is set to go through.
While numerous violations of the treaties have displaced the Lakota, there is also a history of resistance – which we are seeing again today with the struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline and the breaking of treaty rights and denial of sovereignty to the Native community.
The struggle is also a continuation of the successful fight waged by Native activists and environmentalists against the Keystone XL pipeline. Much like that fight, Native Americans are leading the way – but it has created the opportunity to build a multiracial movement against climate change.
One resounding message from Native American activists has been the power of solidarity. During the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, for example, Natives and non-Natives formed the Cowboy-Indian Alliance. Similar coalitions are being forged in the current struggle.
Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Chairman Brandon Sazue explained in a Facebook statement why he and his tribe were offering support:
“We will stand with you, my relatives. Whether we are Native, white, African American, etc. Our water is our most precious resource along with our children. We must all stand together in this most urgent of times. This is not about race, but about the human race! What we do today will make a difference tomorrow! If there was ever a time to stand united, that time is now!”
As Hunkpapa Lakota medicine man Sitting Bull once stated:
“We have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.”
Today, those pushing for the Dakota Access pipeline are steamrolling through Indian treaty land without concern for the earth or the people whose land they are invading.