The Dakota Pipeline Project: Conjuring Sins of a Blood-Soaked Past  

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From Dennis Nealon’s blog

And the so-called white so-called race
Digs for itself a pit of disgrace…

You thought it was over but it’s just like before
Will there never be an end to the Indian wars?

 Bruce Cockburn’s “Indian Wars”

“The truth is that in looking at the Dakota Pipeline controversy, we see a dark ghost from the 1830s when the United States embarked on the large-scale removal of indigenous peoples from the areas where Americans were settling.”

In the 19th century, they called it Manifest Destiny, a grand misnomer for America’s merciless march west across the vast plains inhabited by native tribes—the Ute, the Apache, Comanche, and Oglala Sioux—that had been there long “before the Romans thought of Rome.”[1]

The justification behind Manifest Destiny was that the United States had a given right to take and tame that area stretching across North America from coast to coast. Nothing would stand in the way of U.S. expansion, the concept ordained. And of course in the end nothing did, including whole tribes of American Indians (not to mention millions of buffalo) who were annihilated by the U.S. government or forced onto reservations.

Those “Indian Wars” from the 1830s are a very real chapter in our country’s history, one that we don’t like to discuss honestly or publicly. We don’t go out of our way to really teach new generations about it, either. No, when conversation turns to the so-called taming and settlement of the West, the bloodshed—what some call the U.S. genocide—is not highlighted. Instead, we bury the lead, muting our crimes with an unspoken shame and pointing instead at things like American exceptionalism.

Now this Manifest Destiny thing is back, albeit in a more limited iteration called the Dakota Pipeline—a project that Native American tribes and climate activists have been fighting because they say it will desecrate sacred Indian sites and endanger drinking water near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.

In the waning days of his presidency, President Obama halted that project to allow time for more study, but President Trump resuscitated it with a Jan. 24, 2017 executive order allowing work to proceed. The project involves building a tunnel under Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system. Supporters say the pipeline is safer than rail or trucks to transport the oil. But Linda Black Elk, one resident of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, located nearby the project site, told Newsweek magazine the project amounts to “cultural genocide.”

How bizarre it is in this day and age to believe that the United States would push ahead with a project like this, that it would ignore the Indians’ fears about land that they deem to be sacred. Is there no other way to accomplish the pipeline’s goals? Do they have to make this happen? Is Washington still fighting the Indian Wars? Is the Trump administration completely tone deaf to history here?

It is interesting to consider that President Trump just recently was vociferously criticized for suggesting the United States was not innocent—that like Russia and Vladimir Putin America has had its share of killers. When he suggested that idea in reaction to a question about Putin’s reputation, Trump was right, technically at least. But no one, including Trump, thought to cite America’s sins of the early 19th century, or to say that U.S. expansion domestically was soaked in blood and extinction. Accepting this doesn’t make you un-American or unpatriotic. It means you understand where we have sometimes gone horribly wrong in creating our own history, in fulfilling that Manifest Destiny.

The truth is that in looking at the Dakota Pipeline controversy, we see a dark ghost from the 1830s when the United States embarked on the large-scale removal of indigenous peoples from the areas where Americans were settling.

A lawyer for the Dakota pipeline opposition, vowing to continue the Indians’ fight against the pipeline, said that Trump’s reversal of the Obama administration’s decision to postpone the project “continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian Tribes and violation of treaty rights.”

Jan Hasselman told the Independent’s Andrew Buncombe that, “The Standing Rock tribe is used to tyranny, and they are used to colonization. They have been facing this for the last 500 years.”

He said the protests, which have drawn thousands to the project site, would continue. Opponents have been fighting the pipeline saying that it not only will wreak havoc on the water supply but will also trample on the civil rights of an indigenous people. But, according to reports from Reuters and other news outlets, legal experts agree the tribe faces long odds in convincing any court to halt the $3.8 billion project led by Energy Transfer Partners LP, which, with the Trump reversal, could begin operation as soon as June.

Reuters reported that the U.S. Army, which owns the land through its Corps of Engineers, has granted the final permit for the pipeline.

The controversy comes at a time when the United States should be deciding where—finally—on the National Mall to erect a monument to America’s indigenous tribes, along with those that honor MLK, FDR, and veterans of WWII, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. But instead the Trump administration is shoving aside the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, repeating history and sewing more regret by doing exactly the wrong thing.

[1] From Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s Indian Wars.

Photo: Before President Trump’s reversal
CANNON BALL, NORTH DAKOTA, Dec. 4, 2016 — Sioux Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Seven Council Fires, arrives at the Sacred Circle to announce that the US Army Corps of Engineers will no longer grant access to the Dakota Access Pipeline to put their pipe line on the boundary of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation at Oceti Sakowin camp. Native Americans and activists from around the country have been gathering at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed 1,172-mile-long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)