The High Quarterly

Dakota Access Pipeline: What is sacred? 02/02/2017
 In early September, it was announced that the Washington DC judge had decided against the Standing Rock reservation Sioux lawsuit, brought forward to suggest that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline – a 1172 mile-long underground crude oil pipeline travelling through North and South Dakota and Iowa – was started without sufficient consultation of the tribes native to the area. In the three months following, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have continued to protest its completion on the grounds of their environmental and economic security, concerned that the pipeline could potentially poison their water supplies, hence the name ‘Water Protectors.’ There is an issue aside from safety, however: the pipeline would destroy sites of great religious, historic and cultural importance to the tribes in the area. It brings into question what we consider sacred: it is unlikely, for example, that a pipeline would be proposed if it threatened the Statue of Liberty. Judging cultural significance is difficult - there is no universal code, for what a person raised in one culture may consider sacred, another may think nothing of. It is interesting to consider whether the failure by many to take the protests as seriously as perhaps they should have been, considering many of the Native Americans at the Standing Rock reservation have been tear-gassed and soaked with water in freezing temperatures, is owed to the ‘trend’ that has been made out of their culture. Festivals teem with people in headdresses, with traditional tribal markings on their face, presumably few of whom can claim to have Native American heritage. Many of the protestors have likened white demonstrators to treating Standing Rock as the Burning Man festival, and statements have been issued on social media imploring those new additions to the protests to ‘not bring drugs or alcohol’ with them.  The culture that the Sioux tribes are striving so hard to protect has been moulded into a costume and a form of entertainment – is it any wonder, now threatened by not only festival-goers but by the state itself, that so many indigenous people should oppose the pipe’s construction? Update: in January 2017, Trump announced that DAPL will go ahead.

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