NoDAPL Is Everywhere
by Andrea Smith (photos of NoDAPL protests by Joe Bursky, Creative Commons license)
The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline that is currently the center of the Indigenous struggle was previously scheduled to be built near the primarily white Bismark, North Dakota. After protest by residents who feared contamination, state and federal officials relocated the pipeline near the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux. Native peoples across the nation have begun to fight to stop the pipeline in solidarity with Standing Rock. In response, authorities have arrested over 50 people and unleashed dogs on protestors, and sacred sites have been destroyed. The camp around the protest is the largest pan-tribal convergence in decades, yet it receives relatively little media coverage.
This kind of environmental racism is typical for Native nations, a people who are generally on the front lines around environmental struggles, as the majority of US energy resources are on or near Native lands. Almost all uranium mining and production is on Native lands. As a result, birth defect rates in the Four Corners area are 250 times higher than the national average, and they are also very high in the Black Hills area. Authorities have detonated close to 1,000 nuclear explosions on Western Shoshone land. The nuclear tests enacted on the Indigenous peoples of the Marshall Islands have decreased life expectancy to 47 years; some babies are being born without bones.
The US leased Native lands to energy companies that paid Native peoples next to nothing and were not required to engage in any clean up. Water is a major issue as well, because in order to support cities in essentially desert areas like Las Vegas, southern California, etc., water is diverted from Indian reservations to support these cities, creating acute water shortages for Native nations. In this respect, NoDAPL is like Ferguson; the pipeline has received media attention, but the problem isn't new to Indian country. In reality, environmental destruction eventually impacts everyone. If the Missouri River becomes contaminated because of the pipeline, it will not just impact the Dakota peoples—which is why Native peoples are fighting across the country: They are trying to save the water for Native peoples, yes, but also for the rest of the country.
Thus, the NoDAPL struggle is a struggle all Christians should support. The assault on Native lands allows non-Native peoples to be in denial about just how unsustainable our environmentally-destructive economic policies are. By supporting Native peoples, Christians can ensure not just the self-determination of Indigenous nations, but the well-being of the planet.
Andrea Smith is a Cherokee and the author of Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances and Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, both published by Duke University Press, and has contributed to a number of other publications about Native Americans.