I was going to write a big article on the actions at Standing Rock today, but have come to the conclusion that the project requires more time and depth on my part. Instead, I’m just going to use this space and time to whet your apatite on the subject.
The basic issue is that an oil pipeline is under construction that, when it leaks (as all pipelines eventually will) could contaminate the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, as well as damaging sacred sites nearby. The sacred sites themselves are not on the reservation. Resistance to the pipeline has swelled into a movement that is much larger than the residents of that one pipeline.
The reason I’m going to need more research to write about this issue is that this is a conflict between two peoples, one of which conquered the other. White privilege includes the ability to ignore certain facts of life that other people cannot ignore. One of these facts is that the United States sits on land that was taken from people who are still here. The “Indian wars” are not exactly over, because the “Indians” still do not have the political power they need to protect their own interests–and it is that simmering conflict that provides necessary context to this whole story. And that is a context that I probably don’t understand well because I, personally, am white. I try not to ignore those certain facts, but the fact that I can means that some things have probably flown right over my head. So, I need to do more research, lest I unintentionally pass on something inaccurate.
The reason I’m addressing any of this in a blog about climate change–even though the conflict itself is most obviously about water rights–is two-fold. First, it’s an oil pipeline. Dealing with climate change means dealing with all aspects the fossil fuels industry, including oil transportation. The other part is that fossil fuel use itself is based on the assumption that some people are just more important than others. Some people stand to lose more from climate change, and to lose it more quickly, than others. Same goes for water pollution, and much else. Modern society needs oil, so the logic goes, some people just need to take one for the team. But who gets nominated to take the hit? Who does the nominating? Does the premise even make sense?
I recommend reading up on this particular conflict. Here are a couple of articles to get you started.