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Throughout history the presence of Native Americans in the United States has been widely ignored. It is our duty as American citizens to address the blatant disregard our country has shown for the thousands of Native Americans who inhabited this land long before European exploration.

One prominent example of this disregard is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP). Construction of the DAP, an oil pipeline stretching from Illinois to North Dakota estimated to cost about $3.8 billion, began in September, yet it has been halted due to protests by local Native American tribes. The tribes oppose the DAP because of its invasion of their sacred land and the pollution it would generate in surrounding water reserves.

Initially, when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of both North and South Dakota requested a halt in construction, a federal judge rejected the request, but eventually the Obama administration intervened on the side of the Standing Rock Sioux. Jessie Weahkee, a woman who travelled seventeen hours from Albuquerque help out the protesters, offered her views on the importance of these protests: “It’s about our rights as native people to this land. It’s about our rights to worship. It’s about our rights to be able to call a place home, and it’s our rights to water.”

Native Americans have lost their rights to their land and natural resources too many times throughout history, and it’s time for a change in our treatment of Native Americans and Native American land ownership.

While a passionate theological debate lies at the heart of these protests, we must not ignore the health and safety hazards this project poses. Simply the idea of polluting water sources should set off a red flag. By considering a project that is potentially harmful to a resource as crucial as water, the administrators of this project are placing the future economic success of the DAP over the well-being of real people.

Even though the tribes have tried to protest the DAP peacefully, responses thus far have been heavy handed. Security guards have used guard dogs and pepper spray against the protesters. The local sheriff’s department claimed that the protesters were on private property and “stampeded into the construction area with horses, dogs and vehicles.”

The irony of the term ‘private property’ would be considered laughable if it were not so offensive. The sole reason for the protests is for Native Americans to be able to reestablish their ownership of American soil. By using that expression, the officers are disregarding the tribes’ pleas for acknowledgement. The reaction of the DAP administration to the protests is anything but reasonable. This is not how our country should deal with these types of peaceful social protests.

The project not only disrespects Native Americans and their land, but it also poorly reflects the values of our country. Do we truly want to be a nation that values profitable projects over the spiritual and cultural values of a people so important to our society? Should we really allow our fierce capitalistic ideals to override our humanity? Perhaps this was considered acceptable in colonial times, but today we must realize and acknowledge that the pain and suffering that we have caused in the lives of Native Americans are unethical and not tolerable.

Since our country’s founding, Native Americans have suffered immeasurably. We call it the discovery of the New World, but this discovery was also the invasion of a sacred hearth, the beginning of a genocide, and a silent suffering which must come to an end. Indigenous people such as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are fighting for a voice and for their rights. The least we can do is allow them their water, their health, and their sacred land.