Human race had always pursued the path of progress to develop and move to the next level. This urge to progress is not just an instinctive passion, as it readily seems, but a dire need to meet the growing demands of our progressive economic fallibility that convenience and comfort for the chosen ones at the cost of millions of others are the primary, but hidden indicators of growth. Growth for all is just a smokescreen as it slowly transpires to be a half truth. Development is made over the absence or degeneration of what existed previously. Development is made on the remains of the demolished beliefs of those millions. Attempts to create economic progress at the cost of cultural, environmental, and personal values is the habit of our race and one among many such is underway in four of the states of US, mainly protested by the indigenous population of North Dakota. They find the 1170-mile long Dakota Access pipeline that carries crude oil from Bakken Shale Basin in North Dakota to Illinois through South Dakota and Iowa.
The US Constitution protects the historic properties through National Historic Preservation Act by authorizing Section 106 Review, in which the impact of federally sponsored projects on historically significant properties are evaluated before granting permission. According to an op-ed in The New York Time’s, the Standing Rock Tribe was not consulted about their sovereign interests in the sacred area as a part of Section 106 process.
Tim Mentz, a former officer of Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Historic Preservation says that the pipeline runs through one of the rarest archaeological sites in history where in a few hardly-found cairns, stone prayer rings etc. can be seen. There are also 27 burial sites and 5 historically significant stone features found along the path of the pipeline. Some of the significant stone features include coup stick of the Strong Heart Society, Big Dipper, a physical depiction of constellation, Bear Medicine Healer, which is a stone effigy of a bear etc. Tim says some of these features can be very rarely seen in any historic sites. The archaeologists who were responsible to survey the path of the pipeline paid no attention to these significant sites, but just walked over them, says Tim.
The history of the ownership of the controversial land is more interesting. The land, Black Hills, was given ownership to the tribes by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. After being known that the land may have gold reserves, the government got the land back after eleven years.
Today, the pipeline is not just a threat to the cultural interests of the indigenous tribes, but also an environmental threat like any other pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux’s concern is not just their historic sites, but the threat the pipeline poses to the water source nearby. Any spill from the pipeline could poison a particular section of the Missouri River, which is a source of water for the tribal people living nearby. Thus, protests against the pipeline construction by the tribal people have also garnered the support of climate activists who are pressing for reduced carbon emissions to save the planet.
After widespread protests in the area, the Obama administration stepped into the matter and halted the construction until further environmental assessment is done. The decision to permit construction of the pipeline will be decided under the National Environmental Policy Act. The United States has the largest network of energy pipelines than any other country in the world running up to 2.5 million miles. According to a The Associated Press report, the accidents due to oil and gas pipelines in the US have risen more than 60% since 2009. It is the big oil that the climate activists and tribes fight in this matter, as these numbers are not allowed to make an impact in any related legislations.
The path to progress is not without any costs, as long as our plan to progress is not inclusive of everyone in the community. Our growth plans kill many to make a few live better. The definition of economic growth today is synonymous to making rich people more richer, but not uplifting the lives of many that live in poor standards. As long as this wealth gap exists, all our growth plans will have impediments, as they target the underprivileged. The challenge to bring up the living standards of the poor is going to remain a challenge forever, because the economic structure we have designed is a zero-sum game. One loses to make the other win. It is unfair to let one group of people lose again and again. At least, what they ask is not trillions of dollars, but some basic fresh air, water and faith to live.
(Image Source: CNN)