Sacred Waters vs Crude Oil

A somber scene affronts my senses, saddening my heart as I scroll through my Facebook news feed. A herd of sacred Tatanka stands forlornly amid arid razor wire corrals awaiting their grim fate. Just the latest faux pas committed by the stakeholders of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

An encampment of Sioux from the Standing Rock Reservation relentlessly unite in protest, enduring brutal treatment by security forces while stalling progress of the pipeline to protect their water, sacred sites and the environment. A fight that has persisted for many months. Pondering this bleak scene, I think sadly to myself that this is history repeating itself. Once again the greed of corporations and government overrides Native Americans' rights! I had waited to see how this conflict would turn out but it seems that, until now, the media had turned a blind eye towards this dire situation.

Until recently, I could not understand why some issues of national importance never receive enough air time by the news media. For whatever reasons, these issues are not deemed important enough to warrant adequate national coverage. With our colorful presidential campaigns and election that dominated the headlines over the past year, I can now see why it's easy to overlook other issues that may not immediately affect us.

One such story encompasses the inclement clashes between the Standing Rock Sioux protesters and the Energy Transfer Partners, about the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River. A dispute has ensued between the two parties over claims that the oil pipeline could threaten the water supply should any leaks occur in the vicinity of the Missouri River. Sacred burial grounds being destroyed in the construction of the pipeline, is causing a major upset amongst members of the Standing Rock Lakota. A contentious issue that is not being dealt with nor going away peacefully.

On most accounts, the native American activists who gathered to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, have been peaceful. Yet a battalion of armed security forces and riot police were deployed to the scene with armored cars, all-terrain vehicles and water cannons. Unprovoked, they opened fire on the protesters with non-lethal ammunition including rubber bullets and pepper spray, drenching the protesters with water cannons in icy weather conditions. This brutal treatment sparked reactive responses by the protesters, resulting in as many as 441 arrests to date. Now, what makes these arrests even more prejudiced against Native American protesters, is this fact: On the same day, while police arrested 141 unarmed native protesters for allegedly trespassing on private property, a jury in Portland, Oregon, issued a verdict of not guilty, acquitting white militia leaders for staging an armed occupation of federal land in protest of government policies. One group was heavily equipped with military weapons, while the other merely armed with ancient prayers and songs of healing. According to the Sioux Nation they are not breaking any laws as they were protesting on Indian lands allocated to them in the 1851 treaty, therefore they are not trespassing, as accused. Some would argue that the harsh treatment of unarmed Indians really shows how biased our criminal justice system is against the American Indians.

The primary cause for concern is that the pipeline will pass underneath the Missouri River, which is the main source of drinking water for more than 10,000 members of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Some Medicine men claim there is also an 'underground ocean' beneath them and oil leakages from the pipeline could affect these sacred subterranean waters as well as the river above. Here is a fact to ponder on, since 2010, reports of more than 3,300 events, including ruptures and leaks from oil and gas pipelines, have occurred nationwide. Thus, begging the question: How safe is the Dakota Access Pipeline?

Upon completion, the Pipeline will traverse a route through four states, making 200 river crossings, including the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, with costs tallying around 3.8 billion dollars. It was designed to siphon 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily, along a 1,170-mile route, beginning in western North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, commencing at a shipping node in Patoka, Illinois. The Sioux Indians, (who have known about this plan since 2014), have set up several temporary camps in North Dakota, about an hour south of Bismarck. These camps allow the members of the Sioux nation to protest around-the-clock to halt construction of the oil pipeline. Initially, a judge took heed and halted all construction on the pipeline, but after hearing the corporation's plea, drilling was allowed to resume despite the protest.

The Dakota Access Pipeline controversy is not going away any day soon, and the harsh Dakota winter is swiftly approaching making it increasingly difficult for the Water Protectors to stand vigilant guard. The federal government has the authority to stop this project, with some comparing the NoDAPL demonstration to the Keystone XL pipeline that got halted due to protest action. So far neither the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have made a decisive comment on how to handle this sensitive issue. However, the Standing Rock Lakota's protest has garnered national support from over 500 Native American nations and environmental activists. A first in recent history. Several Hollywood A-list celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo, Shailene Woodley, Leonardo DiCaprio and Susan Sarandon, to name just a few, have joined in the fight as well. Thanks to social media the message and plight of the protesters are receiving much support and encouragement by sympathizers from all corners of the Earth. Over 1.6 million people from across the globe have checked in to the Standing Rock Reservation Facebook page as a gesture of unity and support to their cause.

Teachings by a medicine man friend has taught me that water is sacred, that water is life! So protecting the integrity of it is more than just a health issue for American Indians. The Earth is seen as their Grandmother and everything in nature is sacred to them in ways we may not fully understand. Traditional beliefs teach that land, sky, and water are ingrained with a spirit shared by nature's living creatures, where water is a purifier, a source of power and signifies fertility. Water is considered to be the life blood of Grandmother Earth and the nourishment for her children: the people, the animals and the plants. It's both creator and destroyer. Running water is a symbol of the continuity of life and the on-going flow of time. The very blood in our veins contains 92% water. Water that once evaporated from the ocean, rained down to earth, flowing down mighty rivers back into the sea, in an infinite cycle that is the circle of life.

With these ancient teachings in my heart, I ruminate on the question that bothers me most: How can corporations and government not see the importance of preserving the environment and the Native culture. Without traditional knowledge and teachings, which respect and protect Grandmother Earth, we sever the connection with Mother Nature, losing our souls in the pursuit of wealth and profit. Without nature we cease to exist. Without water we perish. Once again it seems that the negative aspects of human nature are pushing for economic and technological progress. Little consideration has been spared for the way our sacred waters and lands will be affected by these adverse decisions. As our world accelerates towards a technological future we must not forget the teachings of our Native Elders, who understand the delicate balance that is necessary to keep Mother Nature wholesome and healthy, ultimately affecting all of us in time. So I end simply with the prophecy of an old Cree Indian woman named, Eyes of Fire:

When all the trees have been cut down,
When all the animals have been hunted,
When all the waters are polluted,
When air is poison to breathe,
Only then will you discover you cannot eat money!

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video captions:

- Native Americans Protest DAPL - What is the story? Why the media blackout?

- North Dakota Pipeline Squad use rubber bullets against Water Protectors: Police State

- Police Violently Attack Protesters At Standing Rock

- Standing Rock Responds To Army Corps December 5th Eviction Notice