Standoff At Standing Rock: The 99% vs. Big Money

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Get out, or else.

"Protestors...who violate the order do so at their own risk, and assume any and all corresponding liabilities for their unlawful presence and occupation of the evacuation area," said North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple. This was after he issued an executive order demanding the "mandatory evacuation of all persons" on the main protest site housing the water protectors fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Dalrymple cited inclement weather, saying "Winter conditions have the potential to endanger human life... [the protesters] are ordered to leave the evacuation area immediately."

The Native peoples of America are accustomed to being ordered from their land. During European colonization, the First Americans lost an estimated 97.7% of their ancestral land due to conquest, forced resettlement, and broken treaties like the 1868 Laramie Treaty, the breaking of which the DAPL's construction is predicated upon.

Now, with the massive $3.78 billion pipeline barreling down upon them, the Native American people (the water protectors represent a coalition of members of over 300 federally-recognized Native American tribes) and their allies are fighting a battle as old as America itself: the trampled-upon 99% against the wealthy and powerful 1%. It's Occupy with an environmental and racial twist.

Dakota Access and its parent company are being funded by a variety of banks, many of them large Wall Street establishments like Golden Sachs, which has extended lines of credit totaling nearly $250 million to Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiaries. Other banking establishments funding the DAPL include scandal-ridden Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays, and Morgan Stanley

Standing opposite them are the Native Americans, who epitomize the 99%. The poverty rate among Native Americans nationwide is higher than 25%, and their unemployment rate is over 11%, more than double the national rate. Some areas are much worse off; the Standing Rock reservation that is at the center of these demonstrations, for example, has a staggering unemployment rate of over 60%.

These water protectors are fighting not just for clean water. They are fighting a system that abuses them for profit. They are fighting a government that is all-too-ready to use violence to defend the property rights of massive corporations. They are fighting for their identity, like the Wisconsin Badgers guard and Ho-Chunk tribe member who traveled to Standing Rock to teach a basketball camp for kids. They are fighting politicians who are more prone to use their struggles for political points than to actually stand up for them.

While some politicians pay lip service to helping these communities, the reality is troubling. In 2015, the US House of Representatives passed the "Native American Energy Act," which will "eliminate broad public participation for projects on tribal lands," according to the National Parks Conservation Association, should it become law. The NPCA also warned in a statement that now sounds downright prophetic:

"[T]he bill would insulate energy projects on tribal lands from judicial review by restricting the amount of time to file claims and by making the pursuit of a legal challenge far too expensive for the average citizens...[as well as] eliminate health and environmental protections established by the Department of the Interior in rules regarding hydraulic fracturing. Those living on and near tribal lands would be potentially subjected to heightened risk of spills, underground contamination from toxic chemicals, weakened air quality, [and] reduced well construction standards..."

Essentially: deregulate to bring in business, no matter the expense. No matter that pipelines such as DAPL are statistically negligible in their impact on jobs and unemployment. This is an example of, once again, the United States pushing its brand of capitalism as the answer to all of society's ills on a populace that doesn't want it.

In a shining example of irony, US Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal defending the bill, claiming that it would bring economic development to Native communities. He also cautioned that under current laws, "radical environmental organizations [close to Obama]" might influence what is permitted on Native lands.

Hopefully the water protectors in North Dakota aren't waiting for those "radical environmental organizations" that supposedly have Obama's ear to speak up. Apparently, the president has gone deaf. His most recent comment was that he was going to "let it play out for several more weeks."

Obama's silence on the abuses faced by the water protectors and heartbreaking lack of support for the Native Americans he once promised to represent is reminiscent of his response to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Desmond Tutu once said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."