After nearly a year of protests by Native American tribes and supporters, the United States Army Corps of Engineers officially announced on Sunday Dec. 4 that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will be stopped. While this is an important victory that demonstrates the effective power of the water protectors’ courageous and long-term activism, it is crucial to remember and to examine the U.S.’s systemic neglect of minorities that largely caused this issue in the first place.
Indifference to the health and well being of Native Americans is consistently demonstrated in American society. The 2010 poverty rate at Standing Rock Reservation was triple the national average at 43.2 percent, according to Census Bureau data. This figure runs consistent with 2012 CB research indicating that approximately 25 percent of all individuals identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native in the country are living in poverty. In addition, racist depictions of Native Americans are ingrained in popular culture, from sports mascots to Halloween costumes.
Perhaps the most glaring example of disregard for the dignity of Native American life, however, can be seen with the DAPL’s proposed route that would not only have a high chance of contaminating the local water supply, but would also desecrate Sioux burial grounds––consequences that the U.S. government and many individuals did not seem to view as detrimental enough to immediately stop or to reroute the project.
This flagrant disrespect for human life would not be addressed so casually if it were happening in a predominantly white area. As Standing Rock protester and Sioux elder Faith Spotted Eagle commented in a CNN interview, “What would happen if the Great Sioux Nation decided to build a project through Arlington Cemetery?”
Native Americans aren’t the only minority group whose lives are being threatened by neglect and indifference from mainstream white society––just look at Flint, Michigan. The predominantly black city is still suffering from a contaminated water crisis that has been going on for over 400 days.
With media outlets deliberately stopping coverage of Flint––much like with police brutality against Standing Rock protesters––the continuing extent to which the health and safety of marginalized groups are neglected in favor of actions and narratives that appeal to the white majority is painfully obvious.
Yes, the DAPL being stopped due to peaceful protests from unified Native American tribes is indeed a victory that should be celebrated. But let us not forget that these protestors encountered nearly a year’s worth of violent opposition from law enforcement and civilians alike, with little to no resistance from the government and media.
With the election of President-elect Donald Trump, the lives of marginalized people are arguably in greater jeopardy than they have been in recent years. Look to Standing Rock not only as an example of the power in long-term, peaceful opposition to injustice, but also as a reminder of why becoming actively involved in protests and using whatever privilege you have to support minorities is imperative.
The health and safety of innocent individuals are on the line.