Native Americans, traditionally but erroneously referred to as “Indians”, have fought with ‘white men’ for hundreds of years in the American mid-west – no less so in the Dakotas, two states with some of the greatest plains, most productive farm land and, amazingly, near-abject poverty among a shameful number of its historically oldest residents: Members of Native American tribes who were well established in this area hundreds of years before Europeans ‘invaded’ their land.
The most impoverished reside on ‘reservations’, areas set aside by the U.S. Government as ‘sovereign territories’ that are nominally ruled and controlled by occupying tribes. Too often, though, reservation residents are there for lack of an alternative: Much as they want to preserve and defend their ancient ancestral lands, the reservations have not, for the most part, benefited from inflows of capital that have helped land beyond the res’ –private-owned property where hard labor and, often enough, hefty outside financing, support growth and prosperity both to commercial farms and to ancillary enterprises that are adding wealth to growing communities.
But Native Americans revere their reservations, and sometimes go to great length to resist incursions by outsiders.
Currently – since last April – more than 3,000 of these people are camping in a remote part of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. They are protesting a plan to develop something called the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is intended to carry crude oil from the northwest of North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois.
People in the camp say their protest activity is a way to reconnect with their identity, pride and heritage after a long history of abuse and segregation. But is that enough to justify and, more important, truly ‘stand ground’ against something that both insults and interferes with their heritage?
The pipeline also is known as the Bakken Oil Pipeline, named for anoil-rich area in North Dakota that extends into Canada, is intended to move some 477,000 barrels of oil daily through a 30-inch pipe running along its 1,172-mile route. An estimated 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered oil is believed to be in the US portion of the Bakken Formation, according to the US Geological Survey.
The pipeline’s web site puts some pretty impressive statistics out about the project:
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.7 billion investment that will create 8,000 to 12,000 local jobs during construction. [Observation: ‘During’ is the operative word there!]
Millions of hours of labor will be needed during the construction phase, putting welders, mechanics, electricians, pipefitters, heavy equipment operators and others within the heavy construction industry to work. There will also be increased demand for those who manufacture the steel pipes, fittings, valves, pumps and control devices necessary for a major pipeline, and local economies along the route will feel direct impact through the expanded use of hotels, motels, restaurants, and other services.
The pipeline will translate into millions in state and local revenues during the construction phase and an estimated $129 million annually in property and income taxes.
The pipeline will generate an estimated $50 million annually in property taxes and nearly $74 million in sales taxes to the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois – for services to support schools, roads, emergency services and more.
The site fails to note that when the pipeline’s route takes it under the Missouri River, it will despoil and/or destroy an ancient burial ground – ancient, but not so ancient that current-day Sioux pay no heed to their ancestors’ forever resting place. They most certainly do remember that and much more of their history that has, or would, be trampled over by those the tribe traditionally, but increasingly erroneously, refer to as ‘white people.’
(In a nation that once was and likes to continue thinking of itself as ‘white’, the ‘whites’ – Caucasians – are rapidly becoming a minority race. Though not, so much, in the Dakotas, or Iowa. Illinois is a differently-colored story.)
Bottom line: Commercial interests are, again, trying to impinge on the rights of people who have every right to be where they are, to have their ancient lands left unaffected by white men, and to be left the hell alone. In peace, as the peaceful people they are.