Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota fear their sacred lands and livelihoods are in danger from a planned oil pipeline, and a major mainstream news anchor has taken up their cause.
MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell delivered an impassioned plea on behalf of the Sioux tribe and all Native Americans “who were here before us, long before us, [and] have never been treated as friends.”
In an Aug. 25 episode of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” the host reminded viewers of the country’s “original sin” of invading and stealing Native American lands, saying, “This country was founded on genocide before the word ‘genocide’ was invented.”
“While this in itself is not news, the source of this statement is,” noted the staff of Indian Country Today in response to O’Donnell’s segment. Fierce advocacy for Native American rights is common among activists and historians, the outlet wrote, but a rare find on mainstream news.
O’Donnell is among a growing group of public figures who have spoken out against the $3.8 billion-pipeline, which is projected to funnel 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois once it’s completed later this year.
Sioux protestors, along with environmentalists, celebrities and members of other Native American tribes, have strongly opposed the pipeline, which would run near their reservation in North Dakota. They say it would disturb sacred land, including burial sites, and affect the tribe’s drinking water.
“Our Mother Earth is sacred,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II in a statement in August. “All things evolve and work together. To poison the water, is to poison the substance of life. Everything that moves must have water. How can we talk about and knowingly poison water?”
O’Donnell called the project a “painful and morally embarrassing reminder” of the centuries of physical and spiritual violence Native Americans have endured at the hands of European invaders.
“For hundreds of years, [Native Americans] were the only people who thought that land and rivers should be preserved in their natural state, the only people who thought a mountain or a prairie or a river could be a sacred place,” he said.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed an emergency motion on Sunday to halt construction, saying the project developer, Dakota Access, had already “used bulldozers to destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts.”
“They did this on a holiday weekend, one day after we filed court papers identifying these sacred sites,” Archambault II said in a statement. “The desecration of these ancient places has already caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm. We’re asking the court to halt this path of destruction.”
The tribe aims to stop further construction on an area near its reservation until a judge rules on a previous motion submitted in July. In that motion the tribe argued the Army Corps did not properly consult them before approving the pipeline project. A U.S. district court judge is expected to rule on the case by Friday, according to CNN.
Protests in North Dakota turned violent over Labor Day weekend, with video captured at the scene appearing to show police dogs biting protesters and security guards using pepper spray on the crowd. Officials claimed demonstrators had trespassed onto private lands.
Police didn’t arrest any protesters over the weekend, but they did in previous days’ protests ― a state of affairs O’Donnell commented on in his segment:
“That we still have Native Americans left in this country to be arrested for trespassing on their own land is testament not to the mercy of the genocidal invaders who seized and occupied their land but to the stunning strength and the 500 years of endurance and the undying dignity of the people who were here long before us, the people who have always known what is truly sacred in this world.”
Check out the ful clip above.