Standing Rock’s Fight for Water

Kat Thompson:

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota has faced media attention, police brutality, fear of contaminated water, and the harsh reality of the U.S. government’s treatment of indigenous tribes because of the proposal of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The tribe has been accused by capitalists of protesting the pipeline for no reason, tortured and told to back down, and have made history by refusing to stop protecting their rights to clean water. A controversial issue that escalated during their protests was the police brutality treatment they received. Many tribes have experienced different conflicts regarding their rights to land, such as to hunt and fish, or own the land. Standing Rock’s Water is Life movement, which began from the pipeline proposal, seeks to bring awareness to the possible damages the pipeline could cause. Harming their water supply or even threatening it is enough for the tribe to protest the pipeline. Eriel Deranger, from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said, “Standing Rock is one of the many illustrations of indigenous-led actions that are confronting the destruction from fossil fuel infrastructure development and showing us all that there is another way to build a better future” (Narine, p. 12).

Without the necessary precautions to create and maintain safe water qualities the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe would be devastated and forced to seek other unnatural solutions to acquire fresh and clean water.  “An adequate supply of good quality water is needed by many of the 8,278 Indians and 3,838 non-Indians living on the reservation” (KK BOLD, 2017). If the pipeline were to negatively affect the tribe’s water supply the Standing Rock indigenous peoples would have to quickly come up with solutions to access clean water.  “Problems with water quality and inadequate supply are common throughout the reservation and have a detrimental effect on health and quality of life as well as deterring economic growth” (KK BOLD, 2017). The tribe needs protection and assurance that their livelihoods will not be negatively impacted by the pipeline, but the U.S. government cannot offer them that.

The Standing Rock indigenous community is distinguishable in its history with water issues because oil and economic profit overshadow their protection of clean and safe water. “An inevitable oil spill from the pipeline, releasing diesel fuel and toxic levels of contaminants into the river, would be culturally and economically catastrophic to the tribe, polluting its source of water and critical farmlands” (Cohn, 2016). The threat of oil spills to their supply of clean water is one of their biggest fears and intrudes on their livelihood. “The pipeline, which crosses four states, would transport up to 570,000 barrels of fracked crude oil daily, 92 feet below the Missouri River” (Monet, 2016). One of the water protectors held a sign that said “Oil Spills, Oil Kills” (Bell, 2016). The threat of an oil spill is real and is serious. The tribe wouldn’t be fighting to protect their water as steadily as they are if they knew for sure oil wouldn’t contaminate their water. Although the pipeline will not directly go through the Standing Rock Reservation it is close enough that it poses a threat to the tribe’s water supply.

Furthermore, the tribe has and will continue to fight against the proposed pipeline even if they are ridiculed by police. “The shared goal to thwart the building of an oil pipeline that threatens Native health and life continued to unify those at the camps despite temperatures that approached freezing” (Kirabo, p. 25). Even in harsh weather conditions, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The police used water cannons on protestors in cold temperatures that resulted in some protestors having hypothermia. “Demonstrators opposed to this plan have been pepper-sprayed, shot at with rubber bullets and faced arrest” (Monet, 2016). The Standing Rock’s experiences have affected American society in a way that gives insight into the harsh treatment the U.S. government and police forces have inflicted on indigenous communities that are still evident today.

If anything goes wrong such a vast pipeline will affect many people, indigenous and non-indigenous, and destroy their land or water. The tribe’s ability to gain so much media attention and widespread support from all over the country from celebrities, other tribes, and everyday U.S. citizens was because of the seriousness of their protest against the pipeline and their meaning behind it. Perhaps, all along the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe should be called water protectors instead of protestors because they are protesting to protect their water. The Standing Rock Tribe’s experiences is different than other indigenous communities because they have received public support from non-native individuals and members of other tribes. The tribe’s willpower to stand up to the U.S. government is seen in their fight against the pipeline and their support from outsiders that see the tribe is fighting for a respected reason. The tribe’s struggle to fight against the pipeline has brought awareness to the U.S. government’s unwillingness to listen to an indigenous tribe’s concerns.

From an indigenous standpoint the tribe’s struggle for rights to clean water has remained constant over time. “If you don’t know very much about Native American people, you wouldn’t understand that this is something that’s kind of natural to us,” said Hopkins, who is enrolled in the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Nation and was born on the Standing Rock Reservation (Donnella, 2016). Indigenous communities have been targeted for numerous years and their fight to resist will continue on as long as other people benefit off of their struggles. “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has repeatedly asked outsider and tribal protesters to leave for safety and environmental reasons. The tribe has said that the fight over the pipeline belongs in the court system” (Cuevas, 2017). Although the tribe isn’t currently protesting on the proposed land as they were before, their influence has been noticed and they will continue to protest the construction of the pipeline by contacting the U.S. government. The indigenous community needs water to survive. The pipeline could potentially pollute or contaminate their water supply and they would be left with unsafe conditions. The U.S. government wants the pipeline for economic profit, whereas the tribe needs clean and safe water to live. “Water is the key to increasing the quality of life and promoting full economic development on the Standing Rock Reservation” (KK BOLD, 2017).

In conclusion, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has a long road ahead of them in trying to protect and maintain their water rights. Their battle is far from over. The tribe has a major influence on the proposed pipeline because of their belief that it will affect their water supply. Tonya Aubid, of the Sacred Stone Camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota spoke of the harsh weather conditions and said, “People must protect the water because without water they cannot have life” (Woodruff, 2017). Peaceful protests were taken by the U.S. government as offensive to their plan of constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline that did not take into consideration the effects it would have on the tribe. U.S. society has taken part in understanding their struggle and why they protest the construction of the pipeline because it could possibly threaten their already difficult situation with receiving clean water or any water at all. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has made history in refusing to stop fighting for their water rights. Despite the backlash they have received by many, they will be remembered for being an indigenous community that was treated poorly by the American government, but did their best in continuing to fight for the tribe’s livelihood that depends on clean water.





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become fight for religious freedom, human rights. Retrieved April 05, 2017, from

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About the author: Brian King

Brian D. King lives in Oklahoma and is a writer and blogger who studies and teaches English. He earned his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Brigham Young University, and he is currently working on his graduate degree in English in Oklahoma.

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