If built, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) will traverse almost 1900 kilometres of whenua to transport crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois in the US. Initially, the project planners had the pipeline coursing through Bismarck, North Dakota – home to a majority white population. However, following their objections to the risk of poisoning their drinking water the DAPL Company rerouted the pipeline into treaty lands. The pipeline now proposes to criss-cross the source of drinking water and desecrate wāhi tapu of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes at multiple points.
The construction of the pipeline invoked the requirement under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to consult with Indigenous Peoples on the pipeline’s potential impact. In February 2015, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – the body responsible for waterways, wrote to the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) in accordance with the Act. The THPO requested a full archaeological investigation, but received no reply until September that year. The THPO responded again airing concerns about ‘significant and unevaluated properties’ on the site, and its ‘exclusion from the [Act] evaluation process’. The THPO signalled then that they felt the USACE were attempting to circumvent the section 106 process.
In August 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux filed for an injunction to stop the construction of DAPL given the high risk of damage and/or destruction to their wāhi tapu if there was not an injunction. The parent company of DAPL then sued the tribal chair and other tribal members for blocking construction.
We Māori know a fair bit about insufficient or no consultation. We know what it means to have our wāhi tapu desecrated, our awa polluted, our lands and resources pillaged, and our treaty rights infringed. We also appreciate the challenge of confronting private interests backed by the State. Of being cast as ‘haters and wreckers’ for simply demanding dignity in the struggle for our physical and cultural survival. Just as ‘our rights as tangata whenua of [Aotearoa]’ derive from our having been here for generations and ‘having developed an intimate connection with this environment, and an intricate set of relationships to regulate our place within it’ (A. Mikaere, 2011) so too do Indigenous Peoples rights everywhere. #NoDAPL is not simply some environmental justice cause. It is a First Nations struggle for recognition of their existence, their culture and tikanga and their tino rangatiratanga. We know their struggle, because it is also our struggle.
The DAPL Company argue that the pipeline is the safest and most reliable way of transporting crude oil. They argue that it is necessary to ‘improve safety to the public and environment’. They push the importance of freeing up rail capacity currently constrained by crude oil cargo. But they continue to ignore the very real concerns of the Indigenous Peoples connected to the whenua and awa affected. They continue to circumvent the rights of the tribes. They deny that their actions are a continuation of colonial violence against tangata whenua. They exploit the access they have to the legal system, to ensure the tribes carry a financial burden for their resistance. They distort the narrative claiming that this struggle for indigenous rights is driven by or overtaken by criminal intent or action, as the pretext to unleash the force of the State on peaceful First Nations resistance.
As Kelly Hayes writes, ‘[Indigenous Peoples] die and have died for the sake of expansion and white wealth, and for the maintenance of both’. So when thinking about #NoDAPL from afar, like here in Aotearoa, remember the kaupapa as our indigenous whanaunga ask:
“This moment is, first and foremost, about Native liberation, Native self-determination and Native survival”
Tuatahi ko te wai, tuarua whānau mai te tamaiti, ka puta ko te whenua