Indigenous Resistance: The Big Picture behind Pipeline Protests

Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine  – March 2017

US pipelines

Last fall, Indigenous Peoples from around the world came to stand with Standing Rock on the banks of the Cannonball River in North Dakota to protect water through the power of prayer, occupation, and protest. Standing Rock has become a much bigger symbol for the ongoing disregard of Indigenous rights to traditional territories and ways of life.

Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation), national campaign director for Honor the Earth, described what happened at Standing Rock at the October 2016 Indigenous Forum, hosted by Bioneers: “The stories are the same no matter where you go around the world with Indigenous people. It’s always this extractive project contaminated our drinking water; this industry is preventing us from exercising our rights to hunt and fish; our traditional foods are dying; our children are sick; our elders are sick; we have cancer clusters. Standing Rock has become for Indigenous people this moment where they’re all standing together because they all know what happens when something like this is allowed to happen to them and to their communities.”

Tears of joy after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pulled the project permit in December were replaced with tears of anguish in January when President Trump issued an executive action to steamroll ahead with the pipeline as part of the administration’s aggressive pursuit of a fossil fuel-based national economy. As of February 2017, water protectors are still fighting for the health and safety of all Americans, including those yet to be born, who will suffer ill-effects of this pipeline.

Across North America, pipelines have resulted in massive disruptions to ecosystems. Contamination from extraction practices have resulted in increased health problems, including birth defects and cancers among people and animals. Indigenous women have been beaten, raped, and killed by transient construction workers and black economy criminals that surround the extraction industry. CEOs give orders to deliberately demolish burial grounds and sacred sites, and those who resist are met with rubber bullets, tear gas, attack dogs, bright lights, and cold waterboarding. In any other context these flagrant displays of human rights violations would be tried as domestic terrorism.

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