The Conflict of the United States and Native Americans



Protesters march along the pipeline route during a protest against the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in St. Anthony, North Dakota, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Grace Fiori, Contributing Editor

As Thanksgiving approaches, many will harken back to a time when the Pilgrims had a peaceful first meal with the Native Americans. This uniquely American holiday serves as a conduit for historical reverie about the first European settlers arrival in North America and the early bond they formed with the Native Americans. Without the help of the Native Americans, as every American student learns in grade school, the Pilgrims would have been unable to survive.

However, the truth of the United States’s history with Native Americans is not the rosy glow cast by this happy holiday. The constant undermining and disrespect of Native Americans is generally considered to be the original sin of this country, and it’s one that has continued to be perpetrated into the modern day.

A perfect example occurred earlier last year. This simple case was of an all-white, well armed militia being acquitted, while one-hundred Native Americans were protesting a pipeline on their own tribal land have been arrested. These transgressions showcase yet again that that this first-thanksgiving ideal doesn’t exist today.

In Eastern Oregon, a self described ‘militia’, headed by Ammon Bundy took over a peaceful protest and seized control of administrative buildings through the use of force in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge during January of 2016.

The protest, over the imprisonment of a rancher who set a fire spreading to  government land, became a vehicle for an anti-government ‘movement’. Armed with extreme weapons, they kept control of the refuge for six weeks before being arrested.

Then, on October 28th a verdict was announced. One that was shocking, improbable, and wrong to many who heard it.

All seven defendants, who did not deny their actions of forcibly seizing government property, were acquitted.  

Meanwhile, on the same day that these extremists were granted freedom, over 142 protesters on Standing Rock Reservation were greeted by armed police officers commanding them to leave their encampment.

Again, very recently, on the night of November 20th, there was a clash with protesters in which seventeen people hospitalized and many more injured. The police used rubber bullets, tear gas, and even water cannons – which in the below freezing temps put many at risk for hypothermia.

This protest is against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would cover 1,172 miles through South Dakota and Iowa and is estimated to cost $3.7 billion dollars.

Part of the pipeline would be along sections of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation – specifically close to Lake Oahe that serves as the Standard Rock’s water supply. These protesters argue that the pipeline could contaminate water supplies and destroy their ancestral lands.

In September the Obama administration intervened and asked Energy Transfer partners, the company heading the pipeline, to halt construction 20 miles around the lake. So far, the company has complied, but construction is finished in all parts of the pipeline except this area and it is unlikely that they will not continue building.

What once started as a small protest has gained a lot of support from over 300 tribal groups, numerous celebrities, and even some high profile politicians. This story is much bigger than Standing Rock. One reservation’s outrage over big corporations disrespecting their rights has given way to a bigger conversation about the rights of Native Americans to ancestral land, and rightly so. Standing Rock has become a through-way for the simple fact that for far too long the United States government has not respected the agreements that were put in place with Native Americans and have ignored calls for change.

While a violent, white militia got off scot free for their actions, a group of protesters were arrested for a peaceful fight for their rightful land. There is blatant unfairness in a justice system that treats white ranchers and Native Americans with such a stark disparity.

There is no way to deny the fact that the government does not treat Native Americans in accordance with the laws of this country. Native Americans are humans, they have rights, and this country has consistently put the rights and interests of these humans behind those of the majority.

This may be uncomfortable for some to hear, but that’s because it should be. It’s uncomfortable to know that we go about our daily lives and exercise our freedoms while the voices of others are stifled. But, if we remain too uncomfortable to call for change, we will lose our fundamental core of American values; that all humans are endowed with fundamental rights.

America takes pride in being the best, accepting the most, as a country, and yet we constantly undermine and double-cross these people who have more rights to this land than us. Until we address this, we cannot pride ourselves on anything.