Reality Check: Why are Pipeline Protesters Being Attacked?

What is going on in South Dakota? Protesters there are having attack dogs sicced on them by private security groups, all while those protesters are arguing about bulldozing of ancient burial sites— sites that are being destroyed by an energy company.

So what is happening here? Why are these Native Americans protesting?

Let’s give it a Reality Check.

The scenes in South Dakota are very dramatic. For months, a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline has been under construction in four states. But over the last few days, there have been clashes between Native American protesters and the private security company that works for the energy company. These have intensified over the last few days.

Videos on social media show all kinds of things, such as pepper spray being used by private security guards on protesters as well as attack dogs being used to attack those protesters.

So what are they protesting?

The energy transfer company, which is building this pipeline, says on its website that the company “is developing a brand new oil pipeline.” It will run, we’re told, 1,168 miles and will transport nearly 570,000 barrels of oil each day from North Dakota down to Illinois.

The company also says the project will create 8,000 to 12,000 local jobs during construction and adds that the pipeline “will translate into millions of dollars in state and local revenues during the construction phase and an estimated $129 million annually in property and income taxes.”

So what is the problem here?

According to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the tribe’s reservation is located in both North and South Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux have filed a lawsuit to halt the construction of the pipeline because of two major concerns.

Number one is water. The pipeline is already facing widespread opposition by a coalition of farmers, ranchers and environmental groups because it’s going to cross 209 rivers, creeks and tributaries. Standing Rock Sioux leaders say the pipeline is going to threaten the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of drinking and irrigation water.

Their second concern is the assault on sacred sites, and that is already happening. Last Friday, the Standing Rock Sioux filed a motion in court saying they found several sites of “significant cultural and historic value” along the path of the proposed pipeline.

But over the Labor Day weekend, “construction crews removed topsoil across an area about 150 feet wide stretching for 2 miles.”

Tribal leaders released this statement saying in part, “this demolition is devastating to burial grounds which are the resting places of the Standing Rock ancestors. We have a sworn declaration from one of the tribe’s cultural experts that describes some of these sites, multiple grave sites and burials, very important archaeological features of the kind that are not found commonly.”

They went on to say that “we put all that in front of the court. And the next morning, it was gone. The shock and anguish felt by tribal members at this, and this abuse of the legal process, is really hard to describe.”

And it was in response to the bulldozing of the site that protesters showed up and had that confrontation with security guards who used attack dogs and pepper spray.

What you need to know is that on Wednesday a federal judge ordered construction on that pipeline to halt in some areas. But it did not halt construction near the burial sites. The judge says he will rule on that by the end of the week.

But what is truly sad here is that the energy company seems to be trying the old adage “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

To permanently desecrate historic and ancient and sacred burial sites, in a way that utterly destroys them so that they cannot be repaired, isn’t a mistake. It is a demeaning act and one that should have serious, if not criminal, consequences.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about it on Twitter.