The center of the fight for our planet’s future shifts. But this week it’s on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation straddling the border between North Dakota and South Dakota. There, tribal members have been, well, standing like a rock in the way of the planned Dakota Access Pipeline, a huge hose for collecting oil out of the Bakken shale and carrying it off to the Midwest and the Gulf where it can be made into gasoline.
The standoff has been picturesque and dramatic, featuring American Indians on horseback. But mostly it’s been brave and lonely, far from most journalists and up against the same forces that have made life hard for Indigenous Peoples for centuries.
The U.S. Army, for instance. It’s the Army Corps of Engineers that last month granted Energy Transfer Corporation the permit necessary to start construction near the reservation, despite a petition signed by 150,000 people, and carried—on foot—by young people from the reservation all the way to Washington. That would be the same U.S. Army that—well, google “Wounded Knee.” Or “Custer.” “Washita River.” “Pine Ridge.”
That’s not really ancient history, not any of it. It’s the reason that Native Americans live confined to bleak reservations in vast stretches of the country that no one thought were good for much of anything else. But those areas—ironically enough—now turn out to be essential for the production or transportation of the last great stocks of hydrocarbons, the ones whose combustion scientists tell us will take us over the edge of global warming.
And if former generations of the U.S. Army made it possible to grab land from Native people, then this largely civilian era of the Army Corps is making it easy to pollute and spoil what little we left them. As the corporation said over the weekend, it was “constructing this pipeline in accordance with applicable laws, and the local, state and federal permits and approvals we have received.”