As the bulldozers peeled grass and soil from the Dakota prairie on Oct. 24, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s peaceful protest heated up. After crossing onto private property to prevent the construction of the North Dakota Pipeline, 167 people were arrested. The lack of national coverage of the protest is unnerving. Maybe the historical normalcy of land-use tension between Native Americans and western settlers renders the protest not worthy of mainstream news coverage, or maybe the Presidential election is dominating the news cycle. Whatever the reason, the absence of coverage for the Standing Rock protests suggests a cultural apathy for the subject. In order to resolve the conflict in southwestern North Dakota, the historical significance as well as the ecological concerns of pipeline protest must be acknowledged.
Footage of the escalating violence surrounding the pipeline protest looks like a horrible reenactment of the battle scenes between Native Americans and the U.S. Army in the 19th century period film “Little Big Man.” Native Americans are pushed to the ground by white men. Horses spook at barking dogs and dust flies from the ensuing chaos. The only difference is the huge bulldozers and disgruntled men with pepper spray in the background of the protest video. It is unfortunate and irresponsible that the protests have turned violent. However, the conflict is too reminiscent of the Native American versus U.S. Army face-offs that occurred only two centuries ago to be ignored. The tensions we see today have been created from the hierarchy of values established back then, with economic gains taking precedence over Native American culture and conservation.