All posts by Seth Abrams

Dakota Pipeline Threatens Tribal Water Sources

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In a last ditch effort to protect the Missouri river from the Dakota Access Pipeline, dozens of tribal members from South and North Dakota gathered last Friday to protest. A camp has been set up at the point where the proposed pipeline would cross the river, and protesters plan to stay until the pipeline is stopped.

Members from the Standing Rock nation, Cheyenne River Lakota, and Rosebud Sioux, are saying Tribes were not properly consulted about the proposed pipeline, which has been approved by state regulators and now awaits federal confirmation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The proposed 1,130 mile, $3.8 billion pipeline will carry approximately 500,000 barrels a day from the Bakken oil fields in the western part of North Dakota to Illinois, and will also travel through South Dakota and Iowa in the process. It would cross the Missouri river, just yards from tribal lands, and pass through historic lands including burial grounds.

A portion of the pipeline would be constructed sixty-feet underneath the mouth of the Cannonball River, a tributary of the Missouri river and the municipal water source of the Standing Rock Tribe. If a leak or malfunction were to occur, the Tribe’s cherished water source would immediately be jeopardized.

There are approximately 2.5 million miles of pipeline transporting natural gas and crude oil throughout the United States, and leaks resulting in catastrophic consequences for the surrounding communities and environment occur annually.

Last year in May, a devastating spill occurred near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara, California. The corroded pipeline spilled approximately 142,800 gallons of crude oil into the pacific ocean and coastline. Within 24 hours, the oil polluted nine miles of coastline in Santa Barbara, with an estimated $250 million in damages.

Earlier this week, a “potential leak” in southeastern South Dakota has led TransCanada Corporation to investigate and cease operations on a portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

While most of these leaks are due to corrosive pipes that had been constructed decades prior, the same notion of “it’ll happen eventually” is at the forefront of the Dakota Access pipeline protests. Additionally, the recent developments of the Keystone XL pipeline’s infrastructure, which was built less than a decade ago, raises further issues.

Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based energy company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, insists they are committed to “minimizing and mitigating the impacts to land properties,” boasting that pipelines are the safest and most efficient method of transporting energy resources.

ETP’s statements are deceptive, the proposed pipeline’s construction could seriously jeopardize the livelihood of the tribe and surrounding communities. Energy Transfer Partners are disregarding the concerns of local tribes, and a federal approval for the pipeline without a proper environmental impact study could ultimately lead to a grave environmental disaster in the region.

Pipelines are “ticking time bombs,” said Tony Iallonardo, communications director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, in an interview with ProPublica.

Any pipeline could rupture from inevitable exposure to the elements over time, and in this context, it is clear why Standing Rock and others are opposing it and pushing for a comprehensive environmental impact assessment.

 

The Fight to Keep the Lakota Language Alive

The median age of a Lakota language speaker is higher than the average life expectancy of a Lakota tribesman. Like many other Native American languages, the Lakota language is endangered

 However, a newly awarded grant may turn the tide, for the Lakota at least.

The American Indian College Fund (AICF), an education-focused nonprofit, received a $25,000 grant for an immersion program designed to preserve the Lakota language on the Standing Rock Reservation in North and South Dakota.

A concerted focus on language in the upcoming generations is crucial for the preservation of Native culture in American society. Fifty-four Native American languages are already extinct, and another 137 are in danger of being forgotten, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Teaching Native children the Lakota language and culture during their most crucial developmental years is necessary in preserving the Lakota’s rich history, as the saying goes, “When a language dies, a way of understanding the world dies with it.”

Studies have shown that fluency in one’s native language is correlated with grounded self-identity as well as improved academic performance, two areas where Native American populations have unduly suffered as a result of the late 19th century boarding school era policy.

Between the late 19th and mid-20th century, federal policy resulted in Native children being forcibly removed from their homes, and placed in boarding schools where they were brutalized emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically.

Children were taught to be ashamed of their heritage, and were forbidden to speak their languages and practice their culture.

The boarding school era continues to cause intergenerational trauma, and is a primary reason for why some Native languages are extinct, and others are becoming endangered. The AICF’s efforts represent a victory, and highlights a path that other First Nations should pursue.

The ongoing problems caused by the federal government’s boarding school policy must be addressed through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will record the stories of those who experienced the boarding schools, release a comprehensive national study into the history of the policy, and provide recommendations to Congress on how to begin a process of healing and reconciliation.

This Commission, similar to dozens of others worldwide, will offer solutions that can bring forth effective redress.

The donation to the AICF comes from the Grotto Foundation, an organization that provides grants for early childhood development and native language initiatives. The AICF will funnel the money into a recently established childhood education and immersion program at Sitting Bull College in Standing Rock. 

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