Respect our land

by Sherah Ndjongo

About thirty American Indian teenagers from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota are campaigning to prevent the Energy Transfer Partners company from building a massive crude oil pipeline through their land. The young activists, led by 13-year-old Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer, have started a petition against allowing the Dallas-based oil company to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline, highlighting in a letter that it would transport 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day starting from North Dakota and crossing over four states to Illinois. 
The letter is specifically addressed to Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ann Darcy, who is in charge of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps has some power in deciding whether or not they will follow through with the plan to construct the pipeline. Since it was first made available, the petition on has been signed by over 80,000 people. 
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who have consistently expressed their opposition toward planting a pipeline for two years, are now amping up their campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline, making the case that a single fracture in the pipe could release oil into their main water source, polluting it and endangering their community's lifestyle. This can be partly due to the fact that at first, the Dakota Access Pipeline was going to be placed just above Bismarck as well as along the Missouri River. 
Plans were revised when the fact that Bismarck gets its drinking water from the river was taken into greater consideration. Then it was moved further south the Missouri and Cannon Ball Rivers, where the Standing Rock Sioux reside. In an attempt to ease the tribe's concerns, Energy Transfer Partners stated that the pipeline would be under close watch at all times and would be complete with automated valve technology that will switch off immediately if a problem is found. 
The company’s assurance of safety still falls short, however, as the ongoing concern of Standing Rock Sioux about possible oil spills is not without valid reason. For instance, not only are the chances of a pipeline leak, rupture, or spill high, but this means that an incident where a lot of damage can be done to the drinking and irrigation water of the Standing Rock Sioux people is likely as well. In addition, the petition cited that from 2012 to 2013, there were 300 oil pipeline breaks just in North Dakota, and during the last two years, most of these events weren't publicly made known. Similarly, the Kalamazoo and Yellowstone Rivers were negatively affected by enormous spills that have greatly harmed their surrounding communities and ecosystems, which only gives more reason to believe that a pipeline spill is something to expect and prepare for rather than ignore. 
The ancestral and cultural significance of the area where the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers meet, which is very sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux. Numerous artifacts and tales are connected to this location, and a history of ceremony is related to the site too. According to Anna Lee Rain, “My friends and I have played in the river since we were little; my great grandparents raised chickens and horses along it. When the pipeline leaks, it will wipe out plants and animals, ruin our drinking water, and poison the center of community life for the Standing Rock Sioux.” Knowingly constructing a pipeline that would imperil the cultural, spiritual, and economic center for the tribe is clearly inconsiderate, which leads to another observation by Anna Lee Rain that must be taken into account, “It’s like they think our lives are more expendable than others.” 
While unfortunate, it does appear as though the potential harm that could happen to sacred sites that belong to Standing Rock Sioux tribe or the risks to its people from an oil spill is being taken lightly. What makes the lives of those living in Bismarck supposedly more valuable than those of the Standing Rock Sioux that the risk of their drinking water getting polluted is more important than the risk the tribe will have to face? Certainly laws that make it mandatory for agencies to review possibilities of environmental risks before construction exist, and laws which keep safe cultural, historic, and sacred lands of American Indians can be found, but they are being turned a blind eye to in favor of helping the Energy Transfer Partners pipeline company begin its construction process in the time it has requested.  
In the end, by going through with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the US government is siding with the pipeline company's decision to put the water, cultural history and significance, and even the lives of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in danger of permanent loss, which, quite frankly, is exploitative and unsympathetic. Thankfully, Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer's anti-pipeline protest at Standing Rock, which is also gaining attention with its Twitter hashtag: #RezpectOurWater, is a huge step in convincing the Army Corps to reconsider their decision of building the pipeline. After all, as the Standing Rock Sioux saying goes, Mni Wiconi: water is life.



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