WYNEN: Government’s false promise about Dakota Pipeline
Opinions Column: Reality Check
In a day and age where government is largely considered a force for good directed by the educated elites who know what’s best for the “basket of deplorables” (at least on college campuses), the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline is an important event not only for the protection of individual property rights against the corporate-government duopoly, but also gives us (and by us, I refer to non-Native Americans) time to reflect on how government can be — and has been — a hostile and deceitful actor.
George Washington, to his great credit, instructed his successors and the future generations of Americans to actively seek peace with the Native tribes. In his Seventh Annual Message to Congress, he earnestly expressed his desire for peace and cooperation with the indigenous peoples of the continent. If the U.S. desires peace, then the U.S. must be offering true peace. If the U.S. desires border raids to stop, then it must stop encroaching on Native land. Unfortunately like most things the Father of His Country said, his desire for peace went entirely ignored by those who came after him.
Most of the 19th century was marked by the consolidation of American territory and American power over what would become the contiguous United States. Among technological impediments and logistical difficulties, one “issue” that was always in the way of total American dominance of the land were the Native American tribes. American settlement west of the Mississippi River, into lands considered sovereign to several tribes, led to Tecumseh’s War in 1811. Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, led an inter-tribal force against the Americans in response to one of many unequal treaties signed between the U.S. government and Native tribes. Although he was defeated in 1813, Tecumseh would not be the last chief to lead warriors against the Americans.
The U.S. government would begin to expand its limits of duplicitousness with Andrew Jackson, the founder of the modern Democratic Party. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 at the behest of Jackson and his loyalists, giving Jackson the authority to “negotiate” with the Native tribes in the southern United States for their territory. Infamously this resulted in the “Trail of Tears”, a forced relocation march of roughly 16,000 members of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. The impetus for this: the discovery of gold in Georgia.
Robert Remini’s "The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America" provides a chilling anecdote. Per one U.S. soldier who participated in the Trail of Tears: “I fought through the War Between the States (the American Civil War) and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.” There was worse to come.
After the Civil War, the “Indian Wars” reached a critical point. Now that the United States government sought to expand further into the heartlands between Texas and California, the Native tribes would be fighting their final campaigns for survival. The Dakota, Sioux and numerous other tribes, despite initial success against the disorganized post-Civil War U.S. Army, would be soundly defeated and forced to accept citizenship or reservation settlement by 1924. In the period from 1865 and the passing of the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act, numerous atrocities were committed. Most infamous was the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. In typical U.S. government fashion, the years leading up to the Massacre were marked by encroaching settlers, and failure of the U.S. to abide by its treaty obligations to turn the settlers away. A detachment of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry was sent to surround an encampment of Lakota men, women, and children who were following a man by the name of Wovoka. He was leading them in a “Ghost Dance” ritual when the Seventh Cavalry attacked. Nearly 300 Lakota — mostly women and children — were slaughtered.
It’s clear then that the history of relations between the U.S. government and the native peoples of this land has been one of violence, distrust and indifference. Taking the historical backdrop of this relationship, let’s apply it to today’s controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline. An American corporation, supported by the security forces of the American government, are going to put a potentially dangerous oil pipeline through lands considered sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
In light of more than a century of bloodshed and betrayal, perhaps it would behoove the US government to do what its ardent supporters say it does — act as a force for good. A compromise for all would be denying the DAP access to sacred Dakota land, but still allowing the pipeline to be built if they find a way around the land. I’m a cynic when it comes to government and those who wield power over others, but maybe this time I can be proven wrong.
Steven Wynen is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science with a minor in economics. His column, “Reality Check,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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