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Omdahl: Protest about more than oil pipeline

By Staff | Sep 16, 2016

Even though failures happen, pipelines are still the safest method for transporting large volumes of oil across the country. The hazards of railcars have been clearly demonstrated.

While we may believe that Dakota Access is the best option for moving Bakken oil, the international conflagration at Standing Rock cannot be resolved by treating it as a superficial legal proceeding or as an act of civil disobedience.

The situation demands that we to temper white man arrogance with understanding because this uprising is about more than a pipeline. It is rooted in history.

It’s about the promise in the Laramie Treaty of 1868 to respect Sioux sovereignty of 2.5 million acres of dedicated land in Black Hills country, only to have it pared down by aggressive whites to less than one million acres.

It is about General George Custer violating Indian sovereignty by going into the Black Hills in 1874 to verify the discovery of gold, thereby starting a gold rush that swept aside the Treaty and the rights of the Sioux.

It is about herding a subjugated people onto reservations, slaughtering their buffalo, and promising food and shelter to sustain them on barren stretches of hostile land. We made them dependents in the 1800s and then abhor this dependence in 2016.

It is about the killing of Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock reservation in 1890 for participating in the Ghost Dance when he was not a threat to the white society or the U. S. military.

It is about the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 in which 62 women and children were killed along with over 200 other Native Americans. In today’s world, that is called genocide.

It’s about Lakes Sakakawea and Oahe backing over thousands of acres of Indian lands.

It’s about a deaf state government that has always used the lack of money as an excuse for not funding Indian programs because the priorities of infrastructure, white social needs and tax cuts always came first.

It’s about the Sioux perception that the white Bismarck folks couldn’t be jeopardized by a pipeline break but Indian people downstream could.

We may not like this litany of convicting truths but in order to understand the protest it is necessary to acknowledge the historical facts that have brought us to this clash of two cultures.

If we had treated Native Americans fairly, paid for the land, delivered on promises, kept the treaties, provided the same programs as given whites, we would have receptive friends with whom we could negotiate.

The partnership of Great Britain and the United States in the Iraq invasion is a case in point. Even though the British had reservations, they went along because we have always been loyal partners in war and peace. Our relationship created an environment of deference and compromise.

On the other hand, our relationship with Native Americans has always been hostile. Now when we need their friendship and consent, we don’t have it.

This brings to mind the Old Testament narrative about the return of Jacob after he had stolen Esau’s birthright. He sent three waves of goats, sheep, camels, cows and donkeys ahead as peace offerings to the brother who had vowed to kill him. They were reconciled.

I don’t know what the white man could send to Native Americans to demonstrate regret but pointing to certificates, hearings and court decisions will not be enough to assuage generations of pain.

Dakota Access may not be willing to give the modern equivalent of three waves of goats, sheep, camels, cows and donkeys to win reconciliation. Circumstances demand that the pipeline be finished but let’s hope some reconciliation comes first.

Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and former political science professor at UND.

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