- Failure of the U.S. Legal System: From an archaeological perspective, the violence against protesters fighting for their cultural heritage in North Dakota (ND) has resulted from the failure of the U.S. legal system. The completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) would make the pipeline go across more than 200 waterways, which requires permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as a form of federal authorization. The federal authorization requires compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) which was passed into law in 1966 that can preserve American heritage sites that fall under the realm of public interest. In 1992, Congress included sites associated with Native American cultural practices to the NHPA which directs federal agencies to consult with Indian tribes when dealing with land that is of religious and cultural significance to their community. However, consultation with tribes is often ineffective because federal agencies don’t consider the Native American perspective. Federal agencies often fail to understand the spiritual connection tribes have with their land.
- Environmentally harmful effects: The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has opposed the DAPL since first learning about plans for the pipeline in 2014. The Sioux are protesting this project because the pipeline would travel underneath the Missouri River, a primary source of drinking water for their tribe. Opponents of the pipeline have consistently highlighted the fact that even the safest pipelines can leak and the smallest leak can damage the tribe’s water supply. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures at oil and gas pipelines since 2010.
- Preservation of culture and history: For a good deal of protesters, the construction of the DAPL is personal. The construction of the DAPL is near a Native American Reservation. The Standing Rock Sioux also argue that the pipeline travels across a sacred burial ground.
- Fight for more thorough consultation: Tribal surveys are often conducted for the construction of sites that could affect tribal communities. For the DAPL, a tribal survey was not undertaken. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attempted to have a consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux. However, the Sioux refused because the agency only wanted to consider consultation over a narrow corridor instead of the entire pipeline. In ND, federal and state review and compliance measures for the DAPL was a combined process. Archaeologists reviewed 357 miles of the pipeline in ND and located 149 sites that could fall under the National Register of Historic Places. Engineers rerouted the DAPL to avoid all but nine of these sites. Construction has already begun with consent of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, they are now stating that the agency needs more time before making a decision.
- Be a part of one of largest gatherings of Indigenous people: In addition to the fight against environmental hazards to their communities and the fight for a more thorough consultation, some protesters have come to support and help protect the safety of protesters. People came from all over to embrace their roots and stand in solidarity. Many doubt that such a large gathering of Indigenous people from around the world will happen again in their lifetime.
Priyanka R. Oza is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.