America’s first people have been neglected and abused for centuries. And their plight gets little or no attention. But every once in a while, the media show some interest. They’re in the spotlight now, for example, because of a 1,100-mile pipeline project that would endanger their lands.
The pipeline, about the same length as the XL project that caused so much fuss recently, would pass under the Missouri River twice and cut through sacred burial grounds. Yet it has stirred hardly a ripple of concern – until now.
The media are taking notice because of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who get their drinking water from the river.
Protesters have occupied land along the Cannonball River in North Dakota. The occupation, which began in April, has attracted more than 2,000 sympathisers, including such megastars as Leonardo DiCaprio. Other American tribes are joining the protest, as are members of Canada’s First Nations.
The Standing Rock Sioux have also filed a federal lawsuit to block the project until they can examine its implications.
But, so far, there’s hardly a ripple in political circles. None of the presidential candidates has even mentioned it. Only good ol’ Bernie Sanders has taken up the cause.
That’s a shame because this dispute goes well beyond the XL pipeline fray. It’s a violation of the Sioux’s treaty rights and a reminder of the sad, shameful way Uncle Sam has treated – and still treats – America’s first people.
The issue is especially relevant now, when America’s future is in the balance. As Sonali Kolhatkar observed in a Common Dreams article last weekend:
At a time when white-supremacist notions are re-emerging and a major-party presidential candidate is encouraging America to hate again, this battle of government and corporate power against Native American rights is an important reminder of the real power dynamics in the U.S. and of who has been denied rights since the founding of the country
Encouragingly, President Obama has been breaking with the shameful policies of the past. As Ms. Kolhatkar points out in her article, he has made a point of visiting reservations and promising to “partner” with Native Americans to address the issues they face.
But, so far, he has not intervened in the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute.
I will be disappointed if the President (and Hillary Clinton, whom he has entrusted with his legacy) overlooks this opportunity to defend such a deserving cause. And I hope Hillary, as President, will address the larger issue of the way Native Americans are still treated in their homeland.