November is Native American Heritage month, a time to appreciate and recognize the original owners of the land we call America. It seems ironic, then, for the news to be peppered with reports of protests and demonstrations by the Sioux tribe of North Dakota against creating an oil pipeline that will run through their territory.
All throughout our primary education, we learned about the injustice done to Native Americans and their land—the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, Camp Grant, and more. We made promises and said “never again” to all forms of oppression listed in our history textbooks along with our teachers, families, and friends. Though our intentions were pure and our conviction most probably real, it seems powers outside of our realm of control did not agree.
In 1851, a treaty was agreed upon by the leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the U.S. Government, granting the Sioux territory by the Missouri River in exchange for money and ceded land. The land is called a “multi-component site,” signifying that a plethora of historical and iconic events have taken place there. To the Sioux, the land echoes with memory and literally contains knowledge of the past that is their sacred property. The Dakota Access Pipeline threatens and violates not only this religious significance, but also a historical treaty. Additionally, the pipeline would be in such a location that if it burst or leaked, it could contaminate the Missouri River—permanently.
Native Americans are outraged and engaging in all kinds of protests, along with dedicated allies from all over the country. What’s most touching, though, is the passion and activism of the youth. In the words of Faith Spotted Eagle, “Young people here dream that one day they would live in a camp like this. Because they heard the old people tell the stories of living along the river… [the young people are] living the dream.” Resistance is a form of life for Native American youth, who cherish their time protesting, for whom resistance is life.
In such a politically charged time—and the events of the last few weeks prove this—the value of expressing opinion through protest cannot be undervalued. However, what the protests demonstrate is a power held in the hands of the people. Protests are different than elections, or meetings, or negotiations. Protests like this are, essentially, illegal, and by committing to them, one breaks the law. For a group like the Native Americans, who lack other types of voices, a protest can be the key to gaining anything and everything. These protests are exactly the type written about in history texts; this movement almost echoes the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee for that exact reason: this is a chance to undo the wrongs committed in the past, a chance to make right, even if to a very small extent, the years and years of oppression committed against the Native Americans. The responsibility of these movements falls very often on the youth of the country, and it’s amazing to see the torch being carried. Student and youth activism is a power that gives young people a positive outlet for their dedication.
Regardless of what we believe about the past generation and their choices for our country, it’s important to remember never to lose our voices. There are so many causes to show solidarity in our world, and it’s important we exercise our right to protest the government in times of unrest. And the plight of the Native Americans is a cause that roots back to the beginning of this country. Regardless of your view on the DAPL, their struggle and our responsive choices define our lives as Americans.
In an ethics course I took over the summer, we learned that respect is given to another by respecting their voice, their free will, and their autonomous decisions. When this is taken away from an individual or a large group of people, their humanity is being undermined. Our dignity and respect as humans lie in making noise and listening to others. So let’s fulfill our constitutional rights and make some noise.