Even if this pipeline has clear importance for many people, it can’t be completed without first taking into account the fine print of history — that is to say, the history of those that lost.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe from North Dakota is in its fifth month of protests against the construction of an oil pipeline that will span the northern United States. It will pass through lands where the Sioux have long lived, hunted, fished and died. Plowing through their territory, the pipeline may even destroy areas the tribe uses to access water necessary for their livelihood. It’s been a long time since these lands have legally belonged to them, as the Sioux were [long ago] corralled onto reservations in which they still live. Nowadays, lacking horses, they have climbed atop of bulldozers, which they have plastered with protest signs.
In the wake of the uproar caused by the Sioux, a judge has ordered construction be halted on the stretch of the pipeline that had originally sought, by year’s end, to connect North Dakota — fracking’s epicenter — with Illinois. The Sioux, for their part, maintain that the project in question infringes upon federal laws that have historically served to protect them. Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Partners, a company headquartered in Texas, has stated it is taking precautions to avoid damaging those vulnerable ancestral lands once governed by the indigenous tribes.
All of this is yet another chapter in a longstanding conflict. An “angel of history” had [initially] seemed to be making sure that fracking, a recent technical breakthrough that has produced extraordinary results, continued moving forward unabated until it prevailed and lived up to its full potential, bringing with it increased work, more energy and improved welfare for everyone. Yet, all of a sudden, a handful of Native Americans appeared along the way, demanding their sacred sites be respected and announcing their intention to fight for the water that life has given them.
“We’re not going to let a few ragtag Indian bandits slow down and halt progress,”* wrote General William Tecumseh Sherman in the 19th century. “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination: men, women and children.” The situation was quite clear to Sherman, and things ended up happening just as he predicted — for the most part, at least: a few people did survive. Who would have put the brakes on progress back then? Who would have spoken up when faced with such a promising future?
We now know that a problem does exist, however: the environment. Obama has been quite sensitive to their demands, citing environmental concerns when prohibiting the enormous Keystone XL Pipeline’s construction back in November, which would have run from Canada and passed through North Dakota en route to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Sioux have succeeded in halting the other oil pipeline. As is the case with every conflict, business interests have their own legitimate viewpoint [on the issue], while Native Americans, whose legendary past revolved around the buffalo and whose beliefs maintained that the hills of North Dakota were the “center of all existence,” have their own point of view. What remains to be done is to bring those individuals that are using this “center of all existence” as a site for fracking to the negotiating table. It is critical that they come to an agreement.
Even if this pipeline has clear importance for many people, it can’t be completed without first taking into account the fine print of history — that is to say, the history of those that lost. The Sioux lost, true, but they’re still there.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quote could not be independently verified.