Oil Pipelines: The Disregard Of The Native American Voice
Leonardo DiCaprio won the Best Actor Oscar for his lead role in The Revenant at Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on February 26, 2016. DiCaprio dedicated a portion of the time he had to speak to the cameras and crowd about the issue of climate change. He was met with thunderous applause and cheering. However, a Native American man and his son sat solemnly in the audience until DiCaprio espoused, “We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this.” Then the two sat up and joined the rest of the audience in applause.
While DiCaprio’s gesture was well intentioned, it was indicative of the supposed “allies” of Native Americans whose well-intentioned actions shifted the view. Other voices hi-jacked the conversation of environmental racism against Native Americans and shifted the gaze away from Native Americans. DiCaprio’s speech may have mentioned Native Americans, but failed to mention that the Keystone Pipeline XL had intruded upon and polluted multiple reservations across the United States. The post-mortem of issue in the press focuses on Leonardo DiCaprio instead of the Native Americans.
The denial of Native American civil rights was prevalent through all discussions on Oil Pipelines in the past decade. The Keystone pipeline was halted in 2015, but less than 5 months later the Dakota Access Pipeline began construction, which cut through sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux and polluted their water supply. The tribe’s civil rights were ignored and downplayed by fellow opponents of the pipeline through political language of the protests and the media coverage. Throughout the media coverage and political discussions of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines, the voices of the Native Americans whose civil rights were being infringed upon was ignored or downplayed by both proponents and opponents of the pipeline. Even though the pipelines were temporarily halted, the Native Americans were sidelined and misrepresented in the discourse and their civil rights have yet to be acknowledged.
Despite these pipeline protests taking place within the last decade, scholarship on various aspects of the pipelines already exist. Many scholars were present in the field during protests against the pipelines. One such example is environmentalist Bill McKibben, whose book Oil and Honey champions the fight against climate change by exploring the parallel history of a large scale protest against the Keystone XL pipeline and the small scale battle of Vermont beekeepers in making the world less reliant on energy from fossil fuels. McKibben was famously arrested in front of the White House for an act of civil disobedience; however, and suspiciously, Native Americans and their battle for civil rights are completely omitted from his book. Other scholars do frame the pipeline protests as a moment in the civil rights movements for Native Americans. Most notable is Nick Este’s Our History Is The Future. Este ties the current (and future) fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline into the previous Sioux Tribes’ resistance against American Imperialism of the 19th century, resulting in their civil disobedience at Standing Rock in 2016. Bikem Ekberzade’s book Standing Rock: Greed, Oil and the Lakota’s Struggle for Justice Documents the police brutality against Native American protesters at Standing Rock in 2016 and their struggle for recognition of the misdeeds of the United States government in a court of law. Ellen Moore’s media history discusses coverage of the protests related to the pipeline. Authors like McKibben frame the pipeline as injustice to either the Earth or to Native Americans. Este and Ekberzade focus on the history of Native Americans struggle for Civil Rights, but do not look at it from the United State’s perspective. Their work creates a narrative giving agency to Native Americans. Moore analyzes the reason coverage of the Dakota Access pipeline played out the way it did. Where this paper separate itself from the previous scholarship is that it will focus on the language in which the proponents, such as environmental activists, the anti-pipeline news, and anti-pipeline politicians, failed Native Americans by framing the issue of the pipeline as an environmental issue rather than a civil rights issue. By looking at the language of the media covering the pipeline and government in regards to the pipeline show how the Native Americans plight was erased.
The questions this paper will answer are related to how both opponents and proponents in the government and media failed to address the pipeline as a civil rights issue: What arguments were used that excluded Native American voices from being the prevalent factor in news coverage? How the images did used overlook and misrepresent Native American concerns? What was the impact of social media on the protests? How did the narrative from the U.S. government exclude Native Americans? This paper will attempt to answer these questions by analyzing the voices of the opponents of the pipeline, the proponents of the pipeline, and the United States Government.
Through the analysis of actions and language regarding of the proponents of the pipeline, the opponents of the pipeline, and the United States Government the erasure Native American voice can be assessed. The language proponents reveals their value of economic development of the United States. Their opponent’s language reflects the determination of stopping the pipeline regardless of how the pipeline affects Native Americans. The United State’s government language shows a value on oil production as long as the production does not tarnish the United States’ global prestige. Native American voices were not valued from the start of the pipeline’s proposal in 2005.
Proponents of the pipelines willfully neglected to acknowledge any Native American concerns or issues for the supposed economic advantage the pipeline offered the United States. Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana’s 6th district gave an impassioned speech to the House of Representatives pleading with it to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline on November 3rd, 2011. Cassidy emphasized that the pipeline created jobs for blue collar workers thus lowering the unemployment rate, the carbon footprint would be lower than alternative oils, and the United States wouldn’t be reliant on oil from Venezuela. The reasoning is that the benefit to the United States was the jobs it created, it was less damaging to the environment than other alternatives for oil, and would help the United States be energy independent. Not once were Native Americans mentioned in this speech. This was typical of the narrative proponents created in justifying oil pipelines. Including Native Americans would be an obstacle in fulfilling the economic development and proposed planned. When Canadian corporation TC Energy proposed the plan to the United State Government it involved putting the Keystone Pipelines through native reservations. Thus Proponents by espousing that the pipeline secured the United States’ economic, environmental, and political future justified running roughshod over the sovereignty of Native Americans.
The first of the argument presented by Cassidy was the opportunity the pipeline created jobs for Americans. The Americans he was referring to were blue collar workers. In his speech, Cassidy begged President Obama to approve the Keystone XL in order to create 20,000 jobs for Americans in the oil and steel industry.[i] He was backed by his fellow Republicans throughout the process. Donald Trump during the 2016 election also proclaimed 20,000 jobs would be created if the Dakota Access pipeline would be constructed.[ii] The declaration of 20,000 jobs seems to be hyperbole as the U.S. State Department estimated that the pipeline would create “50 permanent jobs”.[iii] These claims were aimed at rallying support from working class voters to pressure their elected officials into backing the pipeline. This was a success as both Republicans and Democrats backed the pipeline in order to create jobs. Support for the pipeline faltered when the sections of the Keystone Pipeline cut through Native American reservations and working class farmers’ property.
It is when the Keystone pipeline intruded on American farmlands that Democrats faltered in support. The pipeline construction was broken into four phases. Phase 1 began at the Canadian border at North Dakota, cutting south to Steele City, Nebraska, then east to Patoka, Illinois. Patoka is an oil hub where crude oil can be held until shipping south by train for refinement. While Phase 1 did not directly cut through designated reservations, it did cut through Aberdeen, South Dakota, which houses the Great Plains Regional Office. A part of the United States Department of Interior Indian Affairs, this office provides native tribes funding and facilitates communication with the United States government to maintain relations. Phase 2 connected Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma, another oil hub. This section of pipeline came within 80 miles of Native American property in North Dakota and South Dakota. The pollution from pipeline leaks flowed into reservations water sources and tainted Nebraskan farmland. Phase 3 connected the pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries in Houston, Texas. This phase cut directly through the Chickasaw Territory Reservation in Oklahoma. Protests from Native Americans, farmers and environmentalists halted the construction of this phase due to concerns of previous phases’ water pollution. By November of 2015, President Obama publicly flipped from being pro-Keystone to anti-Keystone and paused any legislation that furthered its construction. The fourth phase, dubbed “Keystone XL,” was halted and left in legislature limbo. Obama opined that the Keystone XL would not be the boon to the nation’s economy it promised to be.[iv] The language used by President Obama focused on the economy. Therefore, it can be reasoned that Obama was concerned with the intrusion onto the farmers’ lands rather than the natives’. Republican remained steadfast in their support of the pipeline and insisted on pushing forward with the pipeline.
The second argument presented by proponents was that the pipeline would prove less harmful to the environment than alternatives ways of transporting the crude oil. As previously stated, domestic oil was already held in storage hubs like Patoka, Illinois and Cushing, Oklahoma, then transported via railroad to refineries in Houston, Texas. Although the early stages of the Keystone Pipeline brought crude oil to these hubs, the final plan was for the Tar Sands oil in Alberta, Canada to travel by pipeline 2,687 miles to oil refineries in Houston, Texas[v] this option was preferred because trains carrying crude oil were prone to exploding. In 2015, five trains that left Patoka exploded, resulting in 47 deaths and pollution of the surrounding area.[vi] IHS Cera was a consulting company advising TC Energy on the Pipeline. IHS Cera reported to National Geographic in 2014 that if more oil pipelines were not built by 2017, there would be an increase in usage of trains for transportation and thus more potential for explosions and pollution in the surrounding area. The report also stated that the Tar Oil Sands in Canada created 17% less greenhouse gases than oil extracted at the North Dakota Bakken Shale.[vii] The value of human lives lost in the explosions and the environmental concerns of the US Greenhouse Gas emissions were addressed. While environmentalists debated and protested the pipeline’s effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gasses, the lives lost from explosions was not contested. Concerns about environmental pollution from the pipelines, however, was not factored in by proponents.
Oil pipeline proponents’ claims about making good environmental decisions were masked in imperialist and racist sentiments. As stated previously, eminent domain was used to procure land for these pipelines, leaving the surrounding area at risk of being polluted from oil leakage. Farmers’, Native Americans’, and environmentalists’ protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline halted its construction in November of 2015. Shortly afterward, construction began of the Dakota Access Pipeline began. This pipeline stretched from the North Dakota Bakken Shale to Patoka, Illinois. A section of the Dakota Access Pipeline knives through sacred territory of the Standing Rock Sioux which is within 8 miles of the reservation. Alternative routes that went north of North Dakota’s capital, Bismarck, were rejected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers due to concerns of water pollution for the city. These same engineers overlooked concerns about pollution to the Standing Rock Reservation.[viii] The hypocrisy of the details is astonishing. First is that to prevent pollution of areas surrounding the hub cities, planners decided to drive the Dakota Access Pipeline through land frequented by Native Americans. The Keystone Pipeline had already proved that leaks were frequent and surrounding areas were in danger of pollution. Second is that Dakota Access Pipeline was deemed unacceptable to the citizens of Bismarck, but acceptable for residents of the Standing Rock Reservation. The lives and homes of Native Americans simply were not a factor in building the pipeline. Their property, well-being and heritage were at the whims of politicians and engineers deciding the most “environmental” way to build the pipeline.
The third argument presented by proponents was that the oil pipelines made the United States “energy independent.” Energy independence meant exporting more sources of energy than importing. Cassidy specifically cited Venezuela as a nation on which the United States was reliant for imports. It was reported by IHS that oil refineries in the United States relied heavily on crude oil from Mexico and Venezuela. Mexico’s crude oil was running out and Venezuela was unreliable in maintaining trade deals due to political instability.[ix] By building oil pipelines from Canada and North Dakota, the United States could avoid these issues while relying less on imported crude oil. The reasoning for becoming energy independent was to benefit the United States’ economy by finding better offers to import oil. This had negative consequences for the Native Americans’ sovereignty.
Native Americans’ sovereignty was violated by the United States in building these oil pipelines. In 2010, before the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, the United States pulled out of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), which held the United States liable in international court for discrimination against indigenous people in pursuit of economic and social development.[x] By pulling out of the treaty, the United States could freely abuse the property of indigenous reservations without facing repercussions on the world stage. Proponents in the government played this legal maneuver to protect themselves in their economic ambitions.
The proponents’ fervent philosophy of pursuing economic growth at all costs codified an air of entitlement and imperialism. When Democrats started to flip against the XL pipeline due to public backlash from protests, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated, “Keystone XL is just common sense… It’s a shovel-ready jobs project that would help thousands of Americans find work.”[xi] What wasn’t said by McConnell was that these jobs would come about using eminent domain to procure tribal lands, leaving the surrounding area at risk of oil leaks, resulting in pollution to both the land and water sources. The indirect statement was that Native Americans and their territory were not sovereign, but rather colonies to be used and exploited for the economic gain of the United States. Reservations were, in theory, a place for native liberation in which tribes could live and practice their cultural heritage.[xii] The construction of pipelines required the seizure of native tribal land, thus erasing the place for them to practice their culture and maintain their heritage.
The erasure of native rights continued the concept of manifest destiny. Reservations were created as independent spaces to appease natives, but now the time had come to take this land for economic gain. To add insult to injury, the claim made by politicians such as Cassidy, McConnell and Trump about the 20,000 jobs created was greatly overstated. The U.S. State Department estimated that the pipeline would create 50 permanent jobs.[xiii] These statements were blatantly racist towards Native Americans. The jobs argument was really hyperbole, referring to temporary construction jobs for non-natives. In effect, political proponents’ words and actions indicated that Native Americans were not truly Americans and their life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were trivial compared to the creation of jobs for 50 non-native Americans. The active population of Standing Rock is 8,217 people. Extrapolating, a Native American was not worth one tenth the value of a blue collar worker. Racism and environmental discrimination was prevalent through all of the proponents’ arguments. This is clearly displayed in pro-pipeline media.
Fox News was a media outlet steadfast in reporting pro-pipeline coverage. One example of the typical coverage featured the nameless correspondent interviewing a white Nebraskan farmer by the name of Art Tanderup. The nameless correspondent regurgitated questions that answered themselves to reinforce the proponents’ three economic growth arguments. She stated, “Those that support the pipeline like the president say it is the best economic and environmental solution, considering that it is a lot less dangerous than transporting the fuel by rail, what do you say to that?” This non-question covered the economic and environmental arguments of proponents. While Tanderup, who was against the pipeline, spoke about the benefits of changing to renewable energy source in replace of the oil, addressing proponents’ energy independence argument, the reporter abruptly interrupted, “But what is the solution because we all want to achieve energy independence”.[xiv] These Fox interviews were just tools of pipeline proponents to emphasize their arguments to like-minded members of the American public. It came as no surprise that Native Americans’ plight was completely left out of the conversation. What was surprising, however, was that Fox News included footage of Native Americans as well as non-natives in native attire in that segment when describing the protests.[xv] This juxtaposition showed who their true opponent was. The fact that Fox couldn’t find any footage of protests without Native Americans proved that the issue should have centered on Native American civil rights rather than United States economic growth. The coverage attempted to distract from the environmental injustice. The most disappointing thing was not the general exclusion of Native Americans by Fox News, but the responses by Tanderup.
Tanderup’s appearance on Fox News failed to recognize Native Americans civil rights as a part of the protests. He claimed that the protesters’ goal was to keep the pipeline out of the eastern sand hills of Nebraska. Tanderup contested the arguments that the pipeline would bring economic growth, improvement to the environment, and energy independence. He cited concerns about pollution in farmland, the number of leaks in the pipeline, and that the oil was imported from Canada. He failed on multiple opportunities to speak about the effects the pipeline had on Native Americans. While he spoke of how oil pipelines were an American problem and Nebraskan farmers would protest them anywhere, images of Native Americans played in the background.[xvi] Tanderup, an opponent of the pipeline, also erased Native Americans from the conversation by not mentioning the damage done to reservations or collaborating with Native Americans to protest. Tanderup and his fellow Nebraskan farmers were supposed allies of Native Americans in the fight against oil pipelines. Neglecting and being ineffective at displaying oil pipelines as environmental injustice was unfortunately common for opponents.
Opponents of oil pipelines did little to empower indigenous voices against the proponents of the oil pipelines. Opponents fell into three groups. Many opponents like Tanderup failed to address the oil pipelines as examples of environmental injustice against Native Americans. Instead, they engaged with the arguments of pipeline proponents, submerging into the media cycle and serving as clickbait solely focusing on the arguments of pipeline proponents. Other opponents focused on social media coverage of the event, commodifying the plight of Native Americans. Celebrities supporting the protest also commodified the plight of the Native Americans. When celebrities did give voice, it was ineffective at creating a meaningful platform for them to speak. Thus opponents of the pipeline focused their efforts on refuting pipeline proponents.
Opponents of the pipeline contested the alleged economic, environmental, and political benefits that the oil pipelines would convey to the United States, rather than empower Native Americans who were directly impacted. The New York Times published an article titled North Dakota Could Be Biggest Loser in Ruling Against Oil Pipeline on December 16, 2016. The article details how the Keystone Pipeline hurt the economy of North Dakota through two ways. First, the pipelines prioritized Canadian oil over North Dakota oil. Second, North Dakota oil companies spent significant amounts of money on train transportation.[xvii] The Times article does mention the Sioux Tribes’ protests against oil leaks near a reservation on the Missouri River. These fellow opponents shamed Native Americans for protesting against environmental discrimination. The article is shaming to the pipeline not because it dumped oil into reservations, but because it failed to bring swift economic development to North Dakota. Opponents of the oil pipelines also prioritized the economic development of the United States over the environmental discrimination against Native Americans. Oil was not the opponent’s fuel of choice.
Opponents of the pipeline were concerned with oil as the energy to maintain America’s economic future. The New York Times published an article entitled Unplugging Bottlenecks In Oil Deliveries which retreads the issues with oil being transported by pipeline and train. The author then went on to describe how natural gas could be an alternative solution to help compete with Russia in terms of energy production. Natural gas, however, would run into similar logistical problems as oil.[xviii] This also shows that opponents of the pipeline similarly did not prioritize or even address Native Americans. Opponents also cared about economic growth. The emphasis on natural gas as an alternative would also require pipelines. The desire for economic growth by opponents of oil pipelines means that their natural gas pipeline would similarly be driven through reservations, leaving open the potential for leaks causing pollution. Opponents only contested the pipeline because of what was flowing through the pipes, not because the pipeline was polluting Native American reservations. Opponents obsessed with economic growth, if given the chance, would likely allow construction of natural gas pipeline instead of oil through Native American reservations. These opponents were no better than proponents of the pipeline. Unfortunately, opponents of the pipeline who did care about Native Americans’ environmental justice failed at effectively communicating the message of environmental injustice.
Celebrities were the group that championed Native Americans civil rights to the media. In the midst of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, celebrities either made statements on social media in support of the protestors or joined with Native American protesters. Musicians Willie Nelson and Neil Young held a concert for the protesters. Neil Young released a new song called “Indian Givers” in support of protests. The music video displays Native American protesters tying themselves to pipeline construction vehicles so they cannot be used. It also displays footage of the camp that Native American tribes inhabited. Police brutality is visualized as police chase Native American protesters to take their cameras.[xix] The music video was an authentic representation of what Native Americans and their allies experienced in-person. Other celebrities who did not make an in-person visit to the Dakota Access Pipeline shared information on how to support Native Americans via social media. Leonardo DiCaprio, who dedicated a segment of his three minute Oscar speech, shared via Facebook a YouTube video on how to join the Native Nations Rise! March in Washington D.C. The march occurred on April 29, 2017 with an estimated 2,000 protestors.[xx] DiCaprio was not in attendance at the march. The actions of DiCaprio and Young gave a platform to for Native Americans to speak to the fans of these celebrities. Through these platforms, the issue that oil pipelines were not only a danger to the environment, but an environmental injustice to Native Americans could be communicated. Despite the celebrities’ efforts, people on Facebook and YouTube did not care.
Posts on social media were ineffective at creating interaction between celebrity audiences and Native Americans. Despite the efforts of celebrities sharing social media articles, the issue did not connect with the audience. DiCaprio’s Facebook post stated, “Threatened by the Keystone XL Pipeline, Dakota Access Pipeline, Bayou Bridge Pipeline and so much more, the fight for Indigenous rights is more important than ever. Join hundreds of native peoples as they fight for climate justice at the #ClimateMarch on 4/29 in DC.” It was posted on April 26, 2017 and contained a link to the Native Nations Rise! YouTube video. After it was posted, it received more than 6,600 likes on Facebook. Responses were majority positive with a general message of standing with Leonardo and the Native Americans.[xxi] This support was only skin deep, so to speak. The Native Nations Rise! video attached only had 1,542 views as November 2019. Slightly more than one fifth of DiCaprio’s audience who liked the post took the time to click the link. DiCaprio’s audience didn’t make the effort to click a link and watch a three minute video. The audience only wanted to appear knowledgeable of the events of the pipeline since there was a media coverage surrounding it. They were apathetic to the actual environmental injustice that was occurring.
The media coverage that ensued from celebrities diverted attention away from Native American environmental justice. With all the celebrity endorsements of the protests, the narrative of environmentalism shifted to coverage of celebrities. Two topics of conversation in the news brought about by this change. First, social media was the catalyst for growing the protest against the pipeline. Second, these pipelines became an American issue, meaning an issue burdening the entire nation. An NBC segment titled Police Clad In Riot Gear Move In On Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters does an adequate overview of the events at Standing Rock covering the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the pollution of the Missouri River affected thousands of people, and the abuse of protestors by United States riot police. The report had visually featured Native Americans and protestors. Then, it transitioned to short interview clips with various indigenous people. Each clip consisted of about five seconds that edited out the majority of the response. The answers consisted of vague responses, generically stating, “This is about water, it’s a good thing” or “we have the moral high ground.” The segment moved on to coverage of the celebrities and activists protesting at Standing Rock. One video clip consisted of actor Mark Ruffalo getting out of a car and shaking hands with unidentifiable protestors.[xxii] The piece seemed more focused on filling air time and flashing the clip of Mark Ruffalo than giving Native Americans a platform to speak. Moore notes that this was due to mainstream media’s need to sensationalize stories to obtain viewership. This sensationalizing results in key context clues not being articulated to the audience.[xxiii] It appears to viewers that Native Americans are protesting to protect their water, overlooking the fact that the oil leaking from the pipeline has already polluted the reservation. The news coverage by NBC was dangerous because it misrepresented the purpose of the protest as a stand for the environment rather than a stand against environmental injustice.
The narrative the media presented of the Dakota Access pipeline commodified the Native Americans protests. NBC ran another segment on November 9, 2016 entitled Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters: ‘The World Needed To See What Was Going On’. This segment was composed entirely of Native Americans. The segment started with footage of a Facebook Live stream by a Native American man identified as Sempuali Tenequan. The footage featured Tenequan walking to the Missouri River where protesters were praying in the river. Then they were interrupted by police firing rubber bullets and pepper spray at them. Footage then cuts to various clips of police brutality against Native Americans. While the brutality is being shown a voice over from various Native Americans is played, communicating how police beat children and grandmothers who were praying in the river. The voices then glorify how social media has been a “great tool for providing the right information to the outside world.” The segment ends with a 10 second clip of Native American protester Tinsel Korey who states, “That social media has grown the movement, and that it is not just a Native issue, but an American issue and Americans should be aware.”[xxiv] This segment has highly disingenuous to the Native Americans. NBC sensationalized the police brutality against Native Americans as a way to boost their ratings. If NBC truly cared for reporting the truth, instead of interviewing Korey they should’ve interviewed David Archambault II. While both are Native Americans, Archambault was the chairman of the Standing Rock Reservation leading the protests. Korey was a Canadian actress from Hollywood best known for her role in Twilight movies. The interviews and footage don’t point toward environmental justice for Native Americans. NBC credits David Goldtooth, the founder of Indigenous Environmental Network, for the footage, so the network had access to the leaders of the protest for interview. NBC used Native Americans’ plight without reporting on the environmental injustice. They sensationalized the protest while it was a trendy topic and dropped it when people stopped caring.
Once the media coverage had died down, Americans stopped caring about the oil pipelines. President Obama slowed construction of the pipeline in late November 2016, but with his term running out, there was little he could do to settle the issue. Following the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, protestors were cleared out in February 2017, with complete disregard for their civil rights and land. The public also moved on after the clearing. In November 2019, ABC published an article Over 380,000 Gallons of Oil Spill from Keystone Pipeline in North Dakota, describing that over half an Olympic swimming pool had leaked in one day near Edinburg, North Dakota. It then chronicled another major oil spill that had occurred out of the pipeline in 2017, dumping another 210,000 gallons.[xxv] The article failed to receive enough traction to appear on ABC trending tab. It was out read by articles about an 82- year-old priest dying in a flash flood and Donald Trump’s possible impeachment. The lack of traction for the article proved that the environmental justice inflicted on Native Americans was no longer a concern for the American public. While media did bring attention to the pipeline, it was for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t about Native American’s civil rights, it was about the perception of the United States government. As long as the government was perceived to be doing a good job for the economy, the environmental injustice didn’t matter.
The United States government continues to dismiss the environmental injustice against Native Americans, despite President Obama’s halting the pipeline due to economic and political factors. The economic factors followed the arguments between proponents and opponents of the pipelines. Foreign nations shamed the United States for their treatment of the Native Americans. Despite the foreign pressure, the United States refused to acknowledge its mistreatment of Native Americans. The United States halted the Keystone pipeline because it was not the economic boon it was supposed to be.
President Obama cited the halting of the construction of the Keystone Pipeline for economic reasons rather than the environmental injustice it incurred. Obama released a public statement on November 6th, 2015 halting the pipeline. Obama claimed that the pipeline (Keystone XL) had represented an “overinflated role in political discourse” and that both parties were guilty. Directly following that, he stated “the pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.” He then specified that American business has created 268,000 jobs, the United States is a leader in climate change working with nations like China to encourage them to lower greenhouse emissions, and that importing dirtier crude oil would not make the United States energy secure. He finished with the proclamation, “America is prepared to show the rest of the world the way forward.”[xxvi] Nowhere in the statement did Obama mention Native Americans, pollution of reservation, or the use of eminent domain to take land to build the Keystone Pipeline. Obama only dismissed the economic, environmental, and political arguments of the proponents of the pipeline. Obama and his reasoning erased Native Americans from the conversation, trying to maintain the United States political status.
Foreign nations, however, acknowledged the environmental injustice Native Americans suffered from oil pipelines. Germany invited David Archambault II to speak at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. There he gave a speech on the crisis the Standing Rock Sioux faced to delegates of 47 nations. Archambault spoke of the pollution and brutality aimed at the Standing Rock Sioux. He questioned the integrity of the United States for not protecting the sovereignty of his tribe. Archambault called upon the members to condemn the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and help defend his tribe’s sovereignty.[xxvii] These foreign nations gave Archambault the ability to speak freely and publicly. Foreign banks such as Germany’s BayernLB backed out of deals funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. This led to a private conversation in late November 2016 between Obama and Archambault. After that conversation, Obama halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, though the stop in progress was only temporary. Not even support from foreign nations was enough to convince the United States to fully recognize their mistreatment of Native Americans.
Native Americans and their allies know that recognition of the environmental injustice will not be easy to achieve. The Rosebud Sioux have locked in legal battle against the United States Government since the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. They’re suing the United States Government and TC Energy for violation of the law regarding permits in the construction of the pipeline and the amount of oil that has polluted the Rosebud Reservation.[xxviii] The Standing Rock Sioux are also suing the United States for the previously mentioned reasons, but also the physical abuse and damage inflicted by the Police force. This battle is forestalled by the sheer amount of money energy companies are paying lawyers to stall the legal battle.[xxix] The Tribes will see the legal fight through to the end. Environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in Honey in Oil that he could care less about trending on Facebook that the foot work needed to get done in order to facilitate change.[xxx] Native Americans by taking the fight to the courts are in the same mind set. Social Media might attract attention, however it leaves the Native American plight open to be exploited for social and monetary gain. Local Native American Newspapers frequently write opinion pieces on whether celebrities of activists can be trusted in helping them achieve their goal of truthful recognition. Sixteen year old Swedish Activist Greta Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She dedicated her speech stating she was inspired to activism by watching live streams of Native Americans protesting at Standing Rock. The more recent articles have been discussing the writers’ belief if she truly champions Native American Environmental Justice.[xxxi] Despite the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline the fight for environmental justice is still endeavoring the storm. Native Americans their voices ignored by the Government will not be a decisive blow to their fight.
The environmental justice for Native Americans affected by oil pipelines were ignored by the United States Government, fellow opponents of the pipeline, and pipeline proponents. Proponents erased Native Americans from the oil pipeline conversation by focusing on arguments revolving around America’s economic, environmental, and political direction. This excluded Native Americans because it made any act of protest seem detrimental to America’s economic, environmental, and political future. Unfortunately, some opposition to the pipeline were also fixated in America’s economic, environmental, and political future ignoring the environmental racism that was occurring due to the construction and pollution emanating from the pipeline. Celebrities and Activists who had Native American’s best interest at heart failed to bring substantial news coverage. The media who they attracted failed to properly articulate Native Americans’ struggle for environmental justice. The anti-pipeline media sensationalized the police brutality natives experienced at Standing Rock for views. They had commoditized the natives’ struggle and withdrew from coverage after the media frenzy passed on to another topic of interest. The Government initially backed both Oil Pipeline, but when outrage over the environmental concerns questioned the United States integrity as a leader they swapped to anti-pipeline. Their justification was not their abuse of Native American rights, but cited the arguments against the pipeline as beneficial for economic, environmental, and political future. With the emergence of Donald Trump as President of the United States, oil pipelines are now again at the forefront of being economic, environmental, and political beneficial for United States future.
The Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines are monuments to American Imperialism against Native Americans. Indigenous resistance will persist in their fight to keep their reservations safe. The ground battle has now shifted from the sacred ground of Standing Rock to the courthouse. Their voices have yet to be properly acknowledged and their environmental justice is left unresolved. To alleviate this Americans and the United States government must acknowledge though language that the construction of oil pipelines such as the Keystone and Dakota Access are not just environmental issues, but environmental injustice to Native Americans.
[i] YouTube. Energy & Commerce GOP, November 3, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZw-dsXIpkM&list=PL5_yxdwKPrBLEirPL2YjrOQ145P-3ZY3X&index=4&t=1s.
[ii] Walker, Peter. “Donald Trump Said Keystone Pipeline Would Create 28,000 Jobs. The State Department Says 50.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, March 24, 2017. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-keystone-oil-pipeline-create-28000-jobs-us-state-department-50-climate-change-protest-a7647281.html.
[iii] Shannon, Thomas A. Record of Decision and-National Interest Determination, Record of Decision and-National Interest Determination § (2017).
[iv] Obama, Barack H. “Statement by the President on the Keystone XL Pipeline.” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, November 6, 2015. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/06/statement-president-keystone-xl-pipeline.
[v] Boos, Robert. “Keystone Pipeline proximity to Native Lands.” Public Radio International. Minneapolis, MN: PRI, 20015.
[vi] Lavelle, Marianne. “Illinois Village Leads Charge for Tougher Oil Train Rules.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, January 17, 2014. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/01/140117-barrington-illinois-leads-charge-on-oil-train-rules/.
[vii] Lavelle, Marianne. “3 Factors Shape Obama’s Decision on Keystone XL Pipeline.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, January 31, 2014. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/01/140131-keystone-xl-pipeline-politics-obama-oil/.
[ix] Lavelle, Marianne. “3 Factors Shape Obama’s Decision on Keystone XL Pipeline.”
[x] Estes, Nick. Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. London: Verso, 2019, 244.
[xi] Cox, Ramsey. “McConnell: If Keystone Fails Tuesday, next Congress Will Pass It.” McConnell: If Keystone Fails Tuesday, next Congress Will Pass It. November 18, 2014. https://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/224506-mcconnell-if-keystone-fails-tuesday-next-congress-will-pass-it.
[xii] Estes, Our History Is the Future, 156.
[xiii] Shannon, Record of Decision and-National Interest Determination.
[xiv] Nebraska landowners fight Keystone pipeline construction. YouTube, April 21, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA9NbBqfS1Q&list=PL5_yxdwKPrBLEirPL2YjrOQ145P-3ZY3X&index=2&t=0s.
[xv] Nebraska landowners fight Keystone pipeline construction. YouTube, April 21, 2017
[xvi] Nebraska landowners fight Keystone pipeline construction. YouTube, April 21, 2017
[xvii] Kraus, Clifford. “North Dakota Could Be Biggest Loser in Ruling Against Oil Pipeline.” The New York Times. December 8, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/business/energy-environment/dakota-access-pipeline-oil.html.
[xviii] Cardwell, Diane. “Unplugging Bottlenecks In Oil Deliveries.” The Bew York Times. October 8, 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/09/business/energy-environment/unplugging-bottlenecks-in-oil-and-gas-deliveries.html.
[xix] Indian Givers. YouTube, September 18, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM-NkM-dIDA&list=PL5_yxdwKPrBLEirPL2YjrOQ145P-3ZY3X&index=5&t=0s.
[xxi] DiCaprio, Leonardo, Threatened by the Keystone XL Pipeline, Dakota Access Pipeline, Bayou Bridge Pipeline and so much more, April 26, 2017, Facebook.
[xxii] Police Clad In Riot Gear Move In On Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters | NBC Nightly News. NBC/YouTube, October 27, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaFoHfBfv_8&list=PL5_yxdwKPrBLEirPL2YjrOQ145P-3ZY3X&index=7&t=0s.
[xxiii] Moore, Ellen E. Journalism, Politics, and the Dakota Access Pipeline: Standing Rock and the Framing of Injustice. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2019, 62.
[xxiv]Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters: ‘The World Needed To See What Was Going On’ | NBC News, YouTube, November 9, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15YAD0Us4N4&list=PL5_yxdwKPrBLEirPL2YjrOQ145P-3ZY3X&index=6&t=0s.
[xxv] McPherson, James. “Land Affected by Keystone Pipeline Leak Bigger than Thought.” ABC News. November 18, 2019. https://abcnews.go.com/US/transcanada-210000-gallons-oil-leaked-keystone-pipeline-south/story?id=51207940.
[xxvi] Obama, “Statement by the President on the Keystone XL Pipeline.” National Archives and Records Administration.
[xxvii] Standing Rock Sioux Chairman takes #NODAPL to the United Nations. YouTube, September 20, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW0d_WsuL0Y&feature=emb_title.
[xxviii] Echohawk, John. “Rosebud Sioux and Fort Belknap File Suit against Keystone XL.” Native American Rights Fund. Native American Rights Fund, November 6, 2016. https://www.narf.org/cases/keystone/.
[xxix] Ekberzade, Bikem. Standing Rock: Greed, Oil and the Lakotas Struggle for Justice. London: Zed Books, 2018.
[xxx] McKibben, Bill. Oil and Honey: the Education of an Unlikely Activist. Sydney, Australia: ReadHowYouWant, 2015, 185.
[xxxi] Hatton, Harry, and Frank Jourdans. Greta Thunberg Arrives by Sail in Europe for Climate Talks. December 3, 2019. https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/outside/greta-thunberg-arrives-by-sail-in-europe-for-climate-talks-7qj-7Q93qUOinn-xZ-OyEQ/.
Tags: Oil, Erasure, Indigenous, Protest, Media