By Lennox Orion
As the Standing Rock Sioux fight for access to clean drinking water, we are once again reminded that the American government does not care about Native peoples. Late last month, the eyes of America watched as protesters blocked the construction of the pipeline that they say directly endangered their right to water and violates sacred grounds.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172 mile pipe that will carry crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois. The pipeline from its conception was a controversial issue centered around one important question, one that dates back to the founding of this nation, who does land belong to and who decides what happens to it?
Does the land belong to the expansionist who views it as a thing to be built on and conquered, who sees the monetary benefit of the soil? Or does it belong to those who were born on the land, whose histories are intertwined with the soil, whose ancestors are buried there, and whose culture is directly shaped by the land? While the protest against the pipeline have only been in the spotlight for a few weeks these questions have been in the minds of activists since the founding of this nation, since displacement and genocide.
The activists on the front lines are fighting for civil rights long denied to people of color in this country, the right to clean drinking water. The protesters are also fighting for the protection of burial grounds that were recently discovered during the surveying process, these burial grounds are directly where Dakota Access LLC, the company responsible, plans to build the pipeline.
This burial ground unfortunately, despite the courageous efforts of the activists, were bulldozed this past labor day weekend causing many non-Natives to begin speaking up in outrage. The tension surrounding the pipeline grew to a fever pitch when on September 3rd protesters were attacked by dogs, that were owned by a security firm the energy company hired. The images of activists being attacked by dogs felt eerily familiar for Americans who remember the civil rights struggle, a struggle like this one to gain the rights and privileges this country was built on denying to people of color.
Native Americans have had their cultures erased, their oppression whitewashed into a narrative that benefited the oppressors, and are now fighting to protect their water because water is life. Water is the basis of existence, it is what keeps us nourished and is our direct connection to the earth, without water there can be no life.
Those who call themselves fighters for equity and justice must now fight for the Sioux people, fight beside them, use the privileges that were given to you, and most importantly use your voice. Solidarity does not have to look like protest, it means listening to the needs of the people whom you wish to help, and speaking with them and not over them.
While the work the activists are doing on the ground is making significant change, they cannot do it alone that is where allies come into play. As allies, we can sign petitions, donate to the fundraising pages of the protestors, be vocal in our support for the protestors and most importantly try to influence policy by calling our state senator and getting them to care. We as a nation have repeatedly failed Native peoples, we must not fail them again.