Sacred Water: Native American tribes struggle to keep sacred lands and vital resources from the D.A.P.L

By Becky Hoag

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is near functioning, breaking the hearts of many Native American tribes and environmental activists around the nation. Subsequently, protests erupted from NYC to LA. Even in Eugene, activist efforts are underway, as groups are urging people to boycott banks like Wells Fargo, which funded the pipeline.

The Trump administration is trying to keep its promise of making the United States more energy-independent from other countries. While this goal appears noble, the administration is reverting the U.S. back to fossil fuels, utilizing fracking to rid the land of its natural resources. President Trump also plans to decrease environmental regulations imposed by the EPA on fossil fuel industries, so now their carbon footprints will not only stick around— but grow.

Many are protesting DAPL and other pipelines, not only because the pipelines encourage the growth of the fossil fuel industry, but because an infamous history of leaking haunts oil pipelines. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) recorded 635 pipeline incidents in the U.S. just last year, causing 17 fatalities, 82 injuries and over $308 million in damages.

One of the largest incidents leaked 4,200 barrels of crude oil according to Reuters. Most of the oil leaked into the Ash Coulee Creek that feeds into the little Missouri River, which leads to the Missouri River. Even the smallest leaks can cause monumental damage to the surrounding environments, polluting the local watershed which makes the water undrinkable. Oil clings on to every piece of soil and any living creature that comes in contact with it, making it very difficult to clean up because it quickly becomes intertwined with the environment. This oil spill was only 150 miles away from the DAPL protest camps.

Native American tribes near the pipeline sites recognize pipelines as a threat to their water and a violation of their sacred land. While DAPL says that they built around the Sioux’s Standing Rock sacred land, the people are not assured that their land is safe, believing it is just a matter of time before the pipeline leaks.

Fighting for water is nothing new to Native Americans. While some tribes fight to keep their water clean, others fight to receive water stolen from them. In Southern California, the Paiute tribe has been fighting for their water rights since the 1930s after their relocation to a reservation in Owens Valley. As expressed by the documentary film Paya, which was shown at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at University of Oregon in March, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) promised the Paiutes 400 feet of water per acre per year; however, the agency has only been giving 80% of that water. A strain on the tribe as well the land now exists: The dry land hurts the tribe’s agricultural abilities and productivity.

Hitting closer to home, Klamath tribes in Oregon claim water rights in the Upper Klamath Lake.

The tribes argue that because they were the first inhabitants on the land, they should make any decisions regarding the lake, which is home to numerous fish that the tribes use for food.

A resolution to this debate has yet to be determined, but the current rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration only give more reason for citizens to become active in conserving our environment and protecting the welfare of all American people.