Editor’s Note: Simon Moya-Smith is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and culture editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter @Simonmoyasmith. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Simon Moya-Smith: Hillary Clinton must not stay quiet on issue of Dakota Access Pipeline
Native Americans and our non-Native American allies will continue to protest the pipeline, he says
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton says she is committed to supporting Indian country. Well, now her commitment is being put to the test.
Thousands of Native Americans and allies, including actress Shailene Woodley, have been at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline there. The almost $4 billion, 1,172-mile-long pipeline, which received its permits from the Army Corps of Engineers in July, will snake through ancient Standing Rock Sioux burial grounds and may also threaten the peoples’ drinking water.
Last Thursday, 14 people were arrested during protests. On Friday, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, Dave Archambault, was arrested along with five others. And on Monday, at least 10 were taken into custody. The charges range from disorderly conduct for blocking access to the site to pushing back on a police line. Developers on Thursday said they were halting construction until a federal court hearing next week.
But this isn’t just about the threat to Native American grave sites. Setting aside that it is hard to imagine that the pipeline would be going ahead if it were to cut through the graves of white people, the pipeline is also in clear violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, signed in 1868 between the United States and various Native American tribes and nations, including the Standing Rock Sioux. That document guarantees land, sovereignty, and hunting rights, and promises that the territory will “be closed to all whites.”
The facts of this injustice are clear. The question now is whether Clinton will weigh in.
Why single out the Democratic presidential nominee? Well, back in February, the Clinton camp posted to its website the candidate’s policy platform for Native Americans. In it, Clinton declares that she “will continue to stand for Tribal sovereignty and in support of Tribal resources and sacred sites.”
Earlier this year, Clinton stumped in Indian country, vying for votes. But if she truly supports Native American sovereignty, and if she is sincere about honoring the treaties and protecting sacred sites, then she will take a stand against this ominous pipeline as well as the brazen violation of our treaty rights.
None of this is to overlook the role that President Barack Obama could still play.
After all, two years ago, the President and first lady Michelle Obama visited the very same reservation being threatened by the pipeline today. They laughed and played with the children there at Standing Rock. They listened to the kids as they sang in ancient languages once outlawed by Christian invaders (popularly known as “settlers.”) Will the Obamas now be silent at a time when those same children they so affectionately embraced need them most?
“The history of the United States and tribal nations is filled with broken promises. But I believe that during my Administration, we’ve turned a corner together,” Obama wrote in an op-ed for Indian Country Today in 2014. “We’re writing a new chapter in our history – one in which agreements are upheld, tribal sovereignty is respected, and every American Indian and Alaskan Native who works hard has the chance to get ahead.”
Another agreement and promise has been broken, Mr. President. Where are you?
And speaking of elected officials, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has long claimed to be of North American indigenous parentage, has a distinct opportunity to prove that she is at last with us – that she shares in those revered and honorable Native American traditions of solidarity and resistance.
But she cannot prove this if she stays quiet on this issue. The senator could utilize her influential platform to stand with Native Americans in opposition to this treaty violation and the desecration of burial grounds. We can only hope that she chooses to do so.
In the meantime, Native Americans and our non-Native American allies will continue to protest the pipeline that may very well, sooner or later, fail and poison the water as these pipelines too often do. Chelsey Luger, Lakota from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, told me she believes that it is not a question of if, but when this pipeline will cause a spill, adding that she hopes Clinton will speak up, and soon.
“If Hillary Clinton were to at the very least make a statement of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, it would be a much needed display of affirmative support for the health and well-being of Native (Americans) across the United States,” Luger said. “We need her support, and we’d prefer it now as a preventative action than later as a reaction to crisis.”
If candidate Clinton does nothing to address this issue yet continues into November promising Native Americans that she is our champion, then her words will be nothing but false promises – just more bombast, more white lies to Indians.
But if she voices her opposition to the pipeline, if she proves to us that she is a woman of her word, then that would send a message that while Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks, she acts.
First, though, she has to act. You’re up, Mrs. Clinton.