Tuesday, September 27, 2016

1,782 Miles Closer

By: Terry Beyer

A short 1,782 miles across the country from our main campus is Cannon Ball, North Dakota, the latest front in an ongoing protest between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Dakota Access Pipeline, an underground crude oil transport pipe. The Native Americans protest is grounded in the argument that the pipeline infringes on their rights granted by the US Government and will desecrate both burial sites and historical mounds. The Tribe also states the oil pipeline puts water and land resources at risk as it runs through the Missouri River, less than a mile outside the reservation’s boundary and water source. There have been hundreds to thousands of individuals on site at the building location in protest, despite it being off Indian Reservation property. Faceoff’s with private security has led to media reports of mace and K-9 dogs being utilized against protesters for trespassing. Do the legal rights of the oil company preside over what the Native American tribe believes is both right and their rights?

The protection of our natural resources has been a hot topic the past couple years as we come out of the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the Silverton, Colorado mine leak. There is no guarantee that can be given that our grasslands would be 100% protected. On the other hand, in light of these two recent events and others such as the gulf oil spill of 2010, environmental protection is now at the forefront of policy considered by the companies that mine, dig, and drain. What’s more, the company behind the pipeline states it had given the Indian Nation notice and time to raise objections and none were received. This has been backed up by no less than one of the Senators of North Dakota.

Since the protest began, thousands of other individuals, both Native Americans and otherwise have voiced their support or gone in person to stand in protest themselves. Their goal is to stop construction of the pipeline while the federal judge presiding over the case decides on a course of action. How much chance does a tribe with a population less than the 2015 attendance of Trident Tech have of being heard? Thanks to the First Amendment and the slow but sure support over social media, pretty good. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe may be a small percent of the Native American population and a smaller percent of the US Population but the constant fight for recognition of Native American history, values, and society has been continuous. For example, despite the birth of our nation in 1776, the indigenous peoples were not recognized as citizens until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, an astounding 148 years. The cause they are fighting for has finally reached the greater public, despite a slow start and a lot of initial name calling. It isn’t often Native Americans make headlines as a modern day sovereign peoples.

While 1,782 miles may seem like a long way from North Charleston, the results of this single case in North Dakota sets a precedent and a standard. While we all drive our cars and fill our tanks at the cheapest depot on Labor Day weekend, we mark the 139th anniversary of Ogala Sioux Chief Crazy Horse, famed and eventually killed for his own protest and refusal to be removed from his lands and subjugated. Native American rights are American rights and while we have one American protesting in the NFL by sitting in solemnity, we have a Native American nation standing and marching for their rights.  Is 1,782 miles a long way when we think of the Wassamaw Native American Tribe that lives right here in Berkeley County? Another 400 miles and it’s as long as the Trail of Tears. Thousands of Native Americans already walked that length. In a country built on personal rights and riveted these past few years by civil rights, this case is important in our effort to maintain the sovereignty of the people over the government and its policies, and our ability to enact change when grievance is found.


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