The Native American tribes of Standing Rock are protesting the construction of a pipeline to transport shale oil from North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico across their land. This pipeline threatens their sacred sites and their way of life, their water and very livelihoods. The situation brings to mind countless like confrontations, but this time, with global support, the Sioux of Standing Rock may have turned history’s tide.
“Perhaps you have noticed that even in the slightest breeze you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree; this we understand is its prayer to the Great Spirit, for not only men, but all things and all beings pray to Him continually in different ways.”—Black Elk
Since the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Sioux of Standing Rock and other Six Nations Tribes have seen a great number of promises broken with devastating consequences. One of the most well-known battles of the Great Sioux War of 1876 between the Sioux, allied with Arapaho and Cheyenne, and the US Government was the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
The war is also know as the Black Hills War due to the central object of contention between the Sioux Tribes and the Government, namely, the Black Hills—a site sacred to the Sioux. What sparked off the war was a 1874 violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty by General George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry. They entered the Black Hills and found gold, which started a gold rush on Sioux Lands. The Standing Rock Protests of today are, in a similar way, the result of a contemporary gold rush.
The Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota (Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) were discovered in 1951. But only recently, with the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, has oil production boomed since 2000. This kicked off a modern day gold rush, and marked improvements in the economy of North Dakota.
“You have to follow your heart and it will tell you what you can do to help. It’s not for me to say, we need this, we want this, or we have to have this. It’s up to you. Just being here is enough for me: to know that you are here, and that you’re supporting us.”—Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, David Archambault II, to Imam Zaid Shakir
As a result of this oil production increased and shipment of Bakken Oil from the fields to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico became necessary. The solution to this logistic problem was pipelines. The main one being the Keystone Pipeline. However, several plans for new pipelines that can accommodate the volume produced have been on the table for years. One of the more notorious of these is Keystone XL, which has also been met with a great deal of resistance. This was, however, rejected by the Obama administration in 2015.
An alternate plan, known as the Dakota Access Pipeline or the Bakken Pipeline, was made public by Dakota Access, LLC in July 2014. This plan, in turn, gave rise to the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests (NoDAPL) we see today. At the center of these protests are various Native American Tribes, most notably the Standing Rock Sioux. A protest camp was established by a tribal elder in April 2016.
Mainstream media coverage of the protests has been very limited until recently. It seems clear that the coverage is nowhere near that given to the Keystone XL protests in their time. Despite that the protests have received a great deal of international attention and support from other tribal and religious communities throughout the world. Many Muslim leaders and groups have stepped up in support of NoDAPL, among them, Imam Zaid Shakir, who visited the camp in October 2016.
Sources and further reading:
1. From a local protest to a Global Movement: What Standing Rock is about and how it grew
2. Imam Zaid Shakir visits the protest camp.
3. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe History.
4. The bigger picture: “The Bakken is the most dangerous oil field to work in the U.S. The energy producers never pay for their mistakes.”
5. Bad News For The Bakken As Obama Administration Blocks Pipeline
6. A Special Report on Standing Rock: The Environmental and Social Justice Consequences of the Dakota Access Pipeline
7. Standing Rock protests: this is only the beginning. The world has been electrified by protests against the Dakota access pipeline. Is this a new civil rights movement where environmental and human rights meet?
8. Standing Rock Sioux Pediatrician: Threat from Fracking Chemicals is “Environmental Genocide”
9. The Injustice At Standing Rock Is An American Story
10. Boom and Bust in the Bakken Oil Fields
The discovery last decade that fossil fuels could be tapped from rock deep beneath the windswept prairies of North Dakota acted like a magnet on American working people. By the thousands they came, from as far as Texas and California, fortune-seekers in a modern-day Gold Rush.
11. Muslims Defend the Sacred – Solidarity with Standing Rock