- The events at Standing Rock also allow Americans to realize who some of the nation’s most important leaders really are. The fight for environmental sanity—against pipelines and coal ports and other fossil-fuel infrastructure—has increasingly been led by Native Americans, many of whom are in that Dakota camp today. They speak with real authority—no one else has lived on this continent for the longterm. They see the nation’s history more clearly than anyone else, and its possible future as well.
- For once, after all these centuries, it’s time to look through their eyes. History offers us no chances to completely erase our mistakes. Occasionally, though, we do get a chance to show we learned something.
Bill McKibben, New Yorker Magazine
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Protesters at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, in North Dakota, on Saturday. Photograph By Robyn Beck / AFP /Getty
September 6, 2016 | This week, thousands of Native Americans, from more than a hundred tribes, have camped out on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which straddles the border between the Dakotas, along the Missouri River. What began as a slow trickle of people a month ago is now an increasingly angry flood. They’re there to protest plans for a proposed oil pipeline that they say would contaminate the reservation’s water; in fact, they’re calling themselves protectors, not protesters.
Their foe, most directly, is the federal government, in particular the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has approved a path for the pipeline across the Missouri under a “fast track” option called Permit 12. That’s one reason the Dakota Access Pipeline, as it’s known, hasn’t received the attention that, say, the Keystone XL Pipeline did, even though the pipe is about the same length. Originally, the pipeline was supposed to cross the Missouri near Bismarck, but authorities worried that an oil spill there would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. So they moved the crossing to half a mile from the reservation, across land that was taken from the tribe in 1958, without their consent. The tribe says the government hasn’t done the required consultation with them—if it had, it would have learned that building the pipeline there would require digging up sacred spots and old burial grounds.
Bill McKibben, a former New Yorker staff writer, is the founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College. His most recent book is Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
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