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Opinion: the reality of DAPL

Over a thousand protesters gathered in New York City on Nov. 5, 2016, to support the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Photo courtesy of Karla Anne Cote via Flickr.
Written by Ryan Severance

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been making headlines recently, with protestors from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their supporters vehemently opposing the project on cultural and legal grounds. The simplified narrative being spun by mainstream media and the protestors, however, has frequently omitted some key facts.

The protesters complaints rest on four key points: that the project was authorized without their consultation, that the pipeline presents a clear threat to their water source, that it illegally traverses native inhabited land and that completely peaceful protestors have been met with a harsh and unjust police and security response. As we examine each of these claims individually, however, we can easily come to a rather shocking conclusion — they are all largely bogus.

Let us begin with the most egregious of these falsehoods: that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wasn’t properly consulted before the pipeline was approved. Despite the repeated false claims by the Sioux and many left-wing media sites, there are copious amounts of evidence proving the Army Corps of Engineers reached out to the tribe in attempts to hear its concerns.

Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to any but the Sioux, it completely ignored the Corps and refused to cooperate in any fashion whatsoever.

This court ruling goes into great detail in describing how the Corps reached out many times and refutes most of its other claims as well. It also clarifies that nearly 99 percent of the pipeline traverses privately owned land. Furthermore, the pipeline has taken specific care in sensitive areas, such as around Lake Oahe, to follow pre-existing pipeline plans and constructions projects that are already in place, thus mitigating any environmental and cultural impact or potential damage from spillage.

The DAPL was moved no less than 17 times in response to concerns submitted by affected parties during the multi-year long approval process — concerns which, again, the Standing Rock tribe refused to submit during the approval process.

When the Bureau of Indian Affairs contacted the State Historical Society of North Dakota with claims of possible human remains on the route, a subsequent investigation found no viable evidence to back such claims. The burden is on the tribe to point out specific areas where the pipeline would damage heritage sites — which it has failed to do. The idea that this process has been rushed or done with no regard for the native populations of the region is patently false.

As the above court ruling points out, the tribe’s claim that its ancestral lands stem to “wherever the buffalo roam” is moving but completely useless in a legal sense in determining where its jurisdiction actually begins and ends. Thus, it must be dismissed in determining the validity of this project.

The idea that the tribe’s water source is threatened is also a stretch. The tribe’s key claim that its sole water source, the Fort Yates water intake, is threatened is largely irrelevant, considering the intake is shutting down and being replaced miles further south in the coming months. The tribe has been aware of this for years and has received tens of millions in federal grants for a new, modern facility. The Corps also ruled in its environmental assessment that there would be “no significant (environmental) impact.”

The tribe has also failed to garner any specific evidence that this pipeline actually poses a threat, relying instead on vague claims that pipelines and big oil are evil and doomed to harm its people. While this is a rousing moral argument, one must recall that this is a legal issue, and actual proof is needed to substantiate claims. DAPL, however, has put forth serious effort in regard to safety.

Indeed, as the government Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration tells us, pipelines are the safest way to transfer these types of natural resources. The alternative — transporting it by rail — is significantly more dangerous and has a tenuous history at best. Pipelines also produce little in the way of emissions compared to the alternatives, and in the long run are useful in terms of limiting our environmental impact. This is because the alternative methods of transit are always more harmful environmentally, and the reality is that this oil will be transported one way or another.

The tribe and media have also been dishonest in claiming this is a completely peaceful protest. Storming private land, igniting tire fires, detonating IEDs and attempting to censor the media from covering said events is not a peaceful, well-intentioned protest.

The militarized police response to this has been equally tragic. I should also note the broader trend of police militarization is worrying, but the police would not be forced to respond in this manner if the protestors protested lawfully, and wouldn’t have had to respond at all if the tribe actually attended the approval process proceedings.

Let me be clear; the tribe and its supporters have every right to protest — but the appropriate time for them to voice their complaints would have been after the Army Corps of Engineers reached out to them on multiple occasions, specifically requesting their input. Furthermore, protests must be peaceful, which these are decidedly not.

The reality is we’ve allowed our emotionally-charged response to the federal government interacting with Native Americans to overcome our knowledge of the facts as they are on the ground. With even a brief look at the tribe’s specific claims of injustice, we can see that its story is full of holes at best and puts forward blatant lies at its worst. None of these even begins to touch on the benefits of the pipeline, which my colleague Dylanni Smith included in her well-written but (in my opinion) misguided article dissenting against the pipeline.

I understand that issues like these are inflammatory by nature, and often arouse intense emotional responses. Any issue with Native American lands and the federal government also inevitably calls to mind the harsh and unjust treatment of indigenous peoples throughout U.S. history. Yet cool heads must prevail over warm hearts, and fictitious narratives propelled by well-intentioned protests must be thoroughly dispelled should the truth ever hope to be set free.

I must chide the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for its dishonesty in claiming it was not consulted, and for making baseless claim that heritage sites are in danger without providing evidence of such. Vox, however well-intentioned its may be, hardly has even a mite of the knowledge of this situation compared to the United States legal system, which has released hundreds of pages of rulings and filings in favor of DAPL and documenting the approval process.

Going forward, be mindful of spun narratives that seek to simplify this horribly complex and divisive issue. Feel compassion for indigenous peoples so often wronged before in the halls of history, but don’t forget that harsh treatment in the past does not validate every baseless claim they make in the future. Remember, above all, that we are all Americans, and should all seek to work together.

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Ryan Severance

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