By Duke Staff
“Take our land away and we die.”
These words were spoken in the 1970s by Mary Brave Bird, a Lakota Indian activist. She was echoing words spoken by American Indians since 1492 that are still spoken today. The Standing Rock protesters opposing the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota are the newest example of how exploited this group is, and we believe American Indians deserve our support.
According to the U.S. Census, American Indians are the poorest minority group in our country. Nearly 30 percent live below the poverty line. The people who occupied this land first have been left behind, subjected to cramped reservations and generations of broken promises.
Protests, which started in September, have grown in Standing Rock. Sioux that live on a nearby reservation, along with environmentalists and other supporters, have continued to oppose a massive pipeline project which would run through sacred spots and the reservation’s source of drinking water. The pipeline’s proposed route was initially supposed to run by the wealthy, white suburbs of Bismarck, but public outcry had it moved near the Indian reservation. No Indian was consulted during any part of the planning process.
These protests have been peaceful prayer circles and chanting, but that hasn’t stopped a massive law enforcement effort to shut it down. The New York Times reported police in Humvees and body armor rolled in last week with pepper spray, beanbag guns and dogs. Hundreds of unarmed, peaceful protestors were hauled off by the police, according to NPR. One must wonder where this strong response was when a few dozen, heavily-armed, white males seized a wildlife refuge in Oregon (Looking at you, Mr. Ammon “Recently Acquitted” Bundy.)
This is by no means the only occurrence of the disregardment of America’s native peoples. One local example was the construction of the Kinzua Dam in northwestern PA, which forced Seneca Indians off their land in the 1960s and flooded what had been their home for centuries.
The list is too long to count the number of times we have let down the American Indian population. The Partnership with Native Americans said that the federal government has broken to date nearly 500 treaties with native tribes. It’s hard to imagine America getting away with that with any foreign powers.
The Sioux at Standing Rock, and American Indians across our country, deserve our support and recognition. Stand with them not only to support the environment but to support their rights. It’s time to abandon a history of exploitation and start to treat American Indians with the respect they deserve. After all, they were here first.