Pipeline arrests bring attention to indigenous culture, civil rights

Actress Shailene Woodley and 26 other Dakota Access Pipeline protesters were arrested on Oct. 10. Woodley’s arrest—which occurred on Indigenous Peoples’ Day—received mass media coverage and consequently informed people about the situation in North Dakota. Woodley inspirationally used her platform to advocate for the Native American protestors who the media continuously ignore.

Woodley protested the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which—if completed—would carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The protestors resist the construction because “the $3.7 billion pipeline threatens the region’s water supply and would harm sacred cultural lands and tribal burial grounds,” according to The New York Times.

Woodley expressed her concerns about the environmental factors of the Dakota Access Pipeline in her Time Magazine essay “The Truth About My Arrest,” stating, “If we don’t begin taking genuine steps to protect our precious resources … we will not have a healthy or thriving planet to pass on to future generations.” Consequently, she is also challenging deep-seated cultural issues through her advocacy.

Woodley has condemned the media’s obsession with her arrest simply because of her celebrity status and white privilege. “It took me, a white non-native woman being arrested … to bring this cause to many people’s attention,” Woodley wrote.

Many celebrities use their fame to advocate for certain causes they are passionate about, which is usually effective. What sets Woodley apart, however, is her condemnation of the way her particular arrest gained mass media attention while many Native American protesters are arrested daily without coverage.

Twenty-six other North Dakota protestors were arrested on the same day as Woodley, yet none of the multitude of headlines contained their names or their stories. This is exactly what Woodley is trying to explain to us: our culture purposefully and ignorantly refuses to equate the validity of Native American culture with that of our own.

Regardless of the importance of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction being stopped, Woodley proved that there are even more ingrained social biases at play here that are causing the issue to be overlooked.

Woodley denounced the way many Americans see Native American culture as fashionable or decorative and the way Americans do not respect the culture. Ethnic biases in the United States are evident in the Dakota Access Pipeline issue; as a nation, many of us overlook the environmental and cultural consequences of the pipeline’s construction because it does not directly affect us.

Woodley calls for action in creating her essay. “What if we used [my arrest] as a catalyst for a full societal shift in the way we start thinking and treating and learning from indigenous peoples? So that in the future, it doesn’t require a non-native celebrity to bring attention to the cause,” Woodley wrote.

The passion, environmental consciousness and ethnical inclusion shown by Woodley should serve as an inspiration to us all. Hopefully, the publicity surrounding Woodley’s arrest—although unjust in and of itself—will encourage Americans to learn about the environmental effects of the Dakota Access Pipeline and genuinely reevaluate the way Native American people are valued in modern culture.