Standing-Rock Sioux Defend Right to Clean Water, Part 2

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray

For background on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and the Sioux Water Defenders, read Part 1 of this series.

Why the Protest?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are 1.3 million gallons of petroleum leaked into the ground or waterways each year. There are roughly 2.4 million miles of pipeline that transport crude oil in the U.S. In addition, crude oil is transported by ships and tanker trucks. The U.S. has been using pipelines for 70 years to transport petroleum and gas. Ships and trucks, when involved in crude oil spills, have a limited quantity or capacity but when a pipeline leaks, it has the potential to be catastrophic before being shut down.

In the 70 years of pipeline use, there have been several leaks and spills, but according to government statistics, it is still the safest way to transport crude oil. It is for this reason that the Standing Rock Sioux are protesting the placement of the Dakota Access Pipeline. While the pipeline is not technically on Sioux land, it is positioned where it could pose a future threat to their drinking water if the pipeline leaks or malfunctions in the future.

Although the company building the pipeline is fully legal and has obtained all necessary permits, the concern by the Sioux is equally legitimate in wanting to protect their water and land for future generations. As the pipeline ages, it will be more prone to structural failure and any leak could contaminate water and land. Since the 30-foot Dakota Access Pipeline will transport roughly 470,000+ barrels a day, it could present a significant threat to future generations should there be an unfortunate leak.

While the Dakota pipeline is considered the safest and best-designed pipeline, one day it, too, will be obsolete and a potential risk. A leak from a pipeline of this significance could damage much of the Sioux land and drinking water.

Sioux Concern for Tribal Land

Native Americans have had this land ceded to them in perpetuity and they are concerned that if any accident with the pipeline occurs, their land and water could be adversely impacted. This installation of a pipeline near their land is of considerable concern because past treaties or promises have been either broken or ignored.

The Sioux believe the presence of this pipeline is an infringement on their right to peaceful living on the land ceded to them. The oil company has gone through all the government requirements and has obtained the right of way legally, and hence believes it, too, has every right to proceed with its pipeline. Herein lays the conundrum where two rights should not equal one wrong.

Who the Protesters Are

The past broken treaties with Native Americans has created a long-standing condition of distrust that now leads to a pipeline. To deny past government transgressions and its influence on the present would be a further injustice to the Native American community. Thanks in large part to social media, the protest has drawn national attention and the Sioux are now aided by environmental groups and veterans groups of all ethnic persuasions including those that may seek a cause in which to demonstrate or protest.

Our culture today seems to cause two sides of any issue to quickly polarize views and, hence, any compromise is elusive, with each each side entrenched in their perceived rightness.

Police Tactics

The police who have been called in to assist the oil company have exceeded reasonable methods in trying to quell the protest and have further escalated the polarization, in my opinion. The tactics, and sometimes forcefulness, of the police in full riot gear has not improved the situation. Meeting a peaceful protest with a large armed force in full riot gear does not facilitate the groundwork for negotiations or peace.

Two Sides Polarized

Human abuses are filtering out of these clashes between the two factions, and this keeps fueling the protest on to new heights. Those who have subsequently joined the initial protest may have their own agendas and may be hindering, rather than helping, the situation. I call this the “washing-machine effect,” because when you lift the lid, there is an agitator inside and that is the last thing the Sioux need in their protest.

Whether it is the media or those who hope to profit in some way from the protest, no good will come from an outsiders meddling with an otherwise peaceful demonstration. I am not sure this is presently happening within the protesters, but the protest keeps growing and escalating instead of moving toward resolution, so something has to be driving the protest. History will reveal who is right or wrong, but now as polarized as both sides seem to be, there appears to be no backing down by either party.

Where is the Federal Government?

Past broken promises and conduct by our government seem to have come full circle and are now directly focused upon an oil pipeline, where the oil company is legal and trying to proceed with construction but is finding itself in the middle of major controversy. In the meantime, the federal government appears to remain aloof and silent when it should, in my opinion, be taking a more active role in resolving this domestic dispute. While the government may not be held in high esteem by either party, they may be the entity best positioned with the power or authority to resolve this matter.

Show of Force vs Peaceful Protests

If our government can negotiate resolutions with other countries which despise us, then we should expect them to favorably resolve issues on our own soil of this magnitude. It seems to me that being legal may not always be right and to protest in order to obstruct outright also can be questioned. Meeting a peaceful protest with armored vehicles and fully equipped riot police does not appear, to me, to be conducive to resolving tensions or addressing the challenges faced by the Native community.

Heading Toward Serious Confrontation

What started as a peaceful protest has evolved into a growing protest that appears out of control and which could have serious consequences. This need not become a modern-day Sand Creek or Wounded Knee to further blemish our history with Native Americans. As of this writing, the protest seems to be escalating in the wrong direction with the protesters being now given a deadline to vacate the area or to be removed.

Hopefully, reasonable people will intervene and bring this to a favorable and peaceful resolution.


Dakota Access Pipeline facts

Broken treaties

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain lifestyle living at 9,800 feet elevation with their four German Shepherd dogs in a small cabin go to is not an expert on Native American affairs nor pipelines but has followed this issue from the start and attempted to sort through the non-truths to report on this topic. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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