Tough talk: Dakota Access Pipeline an act of terror

Bronson Koenig is mostly known for basketball on campus, but his Ho-Chunk heritage plays no small part in his life. He has been outspoken in his time at Wisconsin in criticizing sports programs with Native names and references as mascots.

Koenig drove up to North Dakota last weekend to join the protests against the drilling of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has sparked national outrage and widespread controversy.

I can’t pretend to speak for indigenous folks, but I do study cultures and have dedicated a great amount of effort to understanding the plight of marginalized groups in the United States. And this pipeline is a cultural catastrophe.

Let’s start with a quick summary of the events. Early last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter to the Tribal Historic Preservation Office seeking a permit for the pipeline. Despite repeated requests from the THPO for further investigation into the impact that the pipeline would have on potentially significant lands, no response was received.

A little over a year later, a permit was issued for the construction of the pipeline. This is when protests began in the late summer of this year. Two weeks ago, a two-mile, 50-meter wide path was plowed through a Standing Rock Sioux sacred burial ground.

With this, confrontations between protesters and pipeline employees escalated dramatically. Private security was hired by Dakota Access, which brought pepper spray and riot dogs, leading to the injury of several protesters.

This series of events is indicative of how minority protests generally go in the U.S. Some horrific affront is made to a historically oppressed group of people, legal complaints are filed and go unanswered and the oppressed are forced to turn to physical protest. Those protesters are then subjected to violence and bodily harm despite the peaceful nature of their actions.

I’m deeply troubled by the actions of Dakota Access and the U.S. government. The relationship between indigenous peoples and the U.S. began with genocide and was followed by generations of oppression. There has been no respite. Time and again, treaties have been signed and violated. Through ever-changing Democratic and Republican regimes, the only constant in American politics has been crimes against Native folk.

I’m troubled because culture is the only thing indigenous Americans have been allowed to hang on to. Lands have been stripped and resources tapped. The systematic extermination of a culture does not happen all at once; it happens slowly, piece by piece. And for centuries, that extermination has been unfolding right in front of us.

By blindly and recklessly drilling through significant lands, the Dakota Access Pipeline is destroying the cultural history of the Standing Rock Sioux. And without culture, people cannot function.

I’m troubled because, despite the progress that the U.S. has allegedly made in the field of social justice and sensitivity, no one in power cares. Too much money is at stake. For those with the power to take swift action against the pipeline, the price of life is not enough.

I’m troubled because Dakota Access and the U.S. government have collectively decided that the only response to peaceful protest is violence. Nearly every high-profile protest in recent years has been met with pepper spray, tear gas, riot shields and rubber bullets.

Diplomacy is dead. This country’s government does not have the capacity (or willingness) to find a reasonable solution to its offenses.

This decision to build this pipeline was not a mistake. It was a calculated decision to turn a blind eye to the pleas of the Standing Rock Sioux and the THPO and destroy cultural history. There is no longer such thing as an accidental affront to indigenous people. Too many massacres, too many desecrations, too many evictions from land owned by Native folk have gone by in the last 400 years to write this off as a misfire.

Koenig’s decision to join the protests is a significant one, as was presidential candidate Jill Stein’s. The presence of celebrities forces people in power to pay attention. While the American people at large might not empathize with the six protesters attacked by dogs or the more than 30 that were pepper-sprayed, they do care that their role models are taking part.

So yes, I am troubled by the events that have taken place in North Dakota in the past year, but more than anything, I’m scared. Scared that there seems to be no end in sight. Scared that, in all likelihood, the pipeline will be built and several significant sites will disappear forever. And scared that, when finally this tragedy ends, something else will take its place, and the extermination will continue.

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