The Colonial Legacy: Native American Relations From America’s Conception To The Standing Rock Protests

by Sarah Wilkinson

In 1801, the year that Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated President of the United States, he wrote James Monroe to say, “However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar form by similar laws.” (Merk and Merk) Though land-grabs and subjugation against Native Americans was well underway by this time, Jefferson’s quote captures the attitudes of manifest destiny and white supremacy that would go on to shape America’s policies and military actions against tribal nations across the North American continent.

This statement also coincides with the beginning of capitalism in America. (Miller and Masur) Land was the original source of capital, and the U.S. government quickly learned that it could make money from the sale of lands stolen from Native Americans. The development of America’s economy depended on the acquirement of land through any means necessary. As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz wrote in her book An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, “Everything in US history is about the land—who oversaw and cultivated it, fished its waters, maintained its wildlife; who invaded and stole it; how it became a commodity (‘real estate’) broken into pieces to be bought and sold on the market.” (Dunbar-Ortiz 1) Much of the lands taken from Native Americans ended up in the hands of the few—wealthy plantation owners who turned profits because of their use of African slave labor. As eastern lands were swallowed up, settlers continued pushing west, looking to find and own fertile land that would allow them to participate in the economy, even just as means to feed their own families. (Dunbar-Ortiz 55)

From the very beginning of our nation’s history, our relationship with Native Americans was one of colonization with the express desire to claim their lands for our economic benefit. Over the centuries, we’ve moved between campaigns to either exterminate or assimilate their peoples into American society. We subjugated Native Americans through legislation, military force and total war efforts, treaty-making, and treaty-breaking. Today Native Americans are living within the legacy of colonialism[1], as evidenced by our continued efforts to white-wash history, to name sports teams after tribal nations, to call enemy territory “Indian Country,” among other things. The legacy of colonialism can be seen within the U.S. government’s continued presence on reservations, as well as the number of Native Americans who now serve in the U.S. military for a lack of other economic opportunities. Direct colonization efforts continue today at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where mostly-peaceful Dakota Access Pipeline protesters are being met with militarized police forces. While dodging rubber bullets and trying to avoid arrest, the Sioux are calling on the U.S. government to honor the tribe’s sacred grounds and rights to clean water.

Methods of Colonialism, 1776–1960

Legislative Land-Grabs and Total War

After U.S. independence, the first legislative acts of colonialism against Native Americans happened as a series of land ordinances, starting in 1784 when it was declared that land north of the Ohio River—which belonged to Native American tribes—would be given a path to statehood. (“The Ordinance of 1784”) Once the secession of these lands was certain, the Land Ordinance of 1785 divided Native American lands into plots and created methods for surveying and selling the lands at public auctions. (“Land Ordinance of 1785”) The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 followed, creating a process for statehood that involved annexing land through military occupation, which would be replicated throughout settlers’ western expansion. Statehood could only be granted when the number of white settlers was at least 60,000—comparable to populations in the original 13 colonies. In order to achieve these populations, the military and settler-militias would need to forcibly remove or reduce Native American populations in the lands they wanted to cede. (Dunbar and Gilio-Whitaker 58–66)

Next came the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which purchased land owned by France but lived on by Native American tribes in the southeastern U.S. Before making the purchase, Thomas Jefferson didn’t confer with any Native American tribes about what the consequences might be for them, consequences that appeared in the form of President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. (Dunbar-Ortiz 95) This act exchanged large amounts of land belonging to tribes east of the Mississippi for land in “Indian Territory” out west. The Trail of Tears followed soon after in 1838, which was the forced march of 16,000 Cherokees off their southeastern lands out to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, wherein 8,000 died. Like the Cherokees, many tribes resisted the relocation policies and the result of resistance was often genocide. (Dunbar-Ortiz 110, 113)

As the westward push continued, Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged western settlement by offering 160 acres of land to settlers for a small fee and 5 years of continuous settlement, at which point they would own the land. This legislative action broke numerous treaty agreements with Native American tribes out west, but the U.S. government was on a mission. Statehood had been delayed in most of the western region because Native Americans were resisting the appropriation of their lands and continued to outnumber the white settlers who sought statehood. The Homestead Act of 1862 was designed to encourage more white settlers to move west, putting pressure on Native American populations and moving western territories closer to statehood. (Dunbar-Ortiz 140–41)

Two months after the Homestead Act was enacted, resistance among the Sioux of Minnesota reached a boiling point. The U.S.-Dakota War, also called the Sioux Uprising, began when four Sioux hunters killed five white settlers. The Sioux took the opportunity to declare war in an attempt to retake their homelands from white settlers, a response not only to their loss of lands but also to the starvation that was gripping them in the wake of broken treaties and late annuity payments from the government. A newspaper article called “Red Men on the Warpath” published in 1959 claims that of the German and Scandinavian immigrants who moved onto Sioux lands in Minnesota, “Few of them knew that their farms had been the traditional domain of the Dakota Sioux.” (Havighurst)

The Sioux had given up 28,000,000 acres of land in exchange for 9 dollars per Sioux in annuities every year. When the payments were late, Little Crow (Taoyateduta), a Mdewakanton Dakota, told their Indian agent Thomas Galbraith, “We have waited a long time. The money is ours but we cannot get it. We have no food but here these stores are filled with food. We ask that you, the agent, make some arrangement so we can get food from the stores, or else we may take our own way to keep ourselves from starving. When men are hungry, they help themselves.” Galbraith refused to distribute food to the Sioux. (“Causes of the War”)

The United States’ plan of attack against the Sioux is captured in this letter from General John Pope to Colonel Henry Sibley, who would later become governor of Minnesota:

The horrible massacres of women and children and the outrageous abuse of female prisoners, still alive, call for punishment beyond human power to inflict. There will be no peace in this region by virtue of treaties and Indian faith. It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year. Destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains, unless, as I suggest, you can capture them. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made. (“Aftermath”)

This sentiment was not unique to Gen. Pope. Even President George Washington spoke with a similar message when he wrote to Major General Sullivan about the Haudenosaunee, telling him to, “…lay waste all the settlements around…that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed….Our future security will be in their inability to injure us…and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.” (Drinnon 331) The underlying message of white supremacy and entitlement to tribal lands sheds light on the motivation and justification for the policies and military actions that led to the reduction of Native American populations from over 10 million in 1492, when Columbus arrived, to less than 25,000 in 1900, toward the end of military action and legal genocide against them. (Dunbar and Gilio-Whitaker 9)

By the end of the U.S.-Dakota War, 600 white settlers and around 100 Sioux had been killed. Even with the disproportionate death rates, the Sioux decidedly lost the war. Shortly after, 303 Sioux men were sentenced to death for their actions in the war and were sent to a prison camp to await execution. Some 1,700 Sioux civilians who weren’t sentenced to death were force-marched to Fort Snelling, where they were held captive. It is important to note that these civilians were under the control of Lieutenant Colonel William Marshall, who told the St. Paul Daily Press, “I would risk my life for the protection of these helpless beings, and would feel everlastingly disgraced if any evil befell them while in my charge….I want the settlers in the valley…to know that they are not the guilty Indians…but friendly Indians, women, and children.” (“Forced Marches & Imprisonment”) This point of view was also not unique, and it would be inaccurate to say that all soldiers or white settlers thought of Native Americans as undeserving of protection or life.

In the end, Abraham Lincoln ordered 39 of the original 303 guilty to be hanged on December 26, 1862, to avoid being cruel but to still discourage any further resistance. An original account of the hangings was published in The New York Times in 1862 with step-by-step details of the day. (Welter) It was an extremely rare occurrence for a white man to be hung for crimes against Native Americans. These executions and others like them, meant to dissuade Native Americans from killing any more white settlers, were a form of colonial control and the message about whose lives were more important was understood by all. When Native Americans resisted by hurting white civilians or burning settlements, the colonial forces felt justified in working toward the extinction of Native Americans, never mind that they themselves used the same tactics. (Dunbar-Ortiz 74) In an 1851 official report from the Department of the Interior, the Interior Secretary offers an explanation for why Native Americans often responded to colonial actions with violence:

It cannot be denied that most of the depredations committed by the Indians on our frontiers are the offspring of dire necessity. The advance of our population compels them to relinquish their fertile lands and seek refuge in sterile regions, which furnish neither corn nor game for their subsistence. Impelled by hunger, they seize the horses, mules, and cattle of the pioneers, to relieve their wants and satisfy the cravings of nature. They are immediately pursued, and, when overtaken, severely punished. This creates a feeling of revenge on their part, which seeks its gratification in outrages on the persons and property of peaceable inhabitants…and a desolating war, attended with a vast sacrifice of blood and treasure, ensues. This, it is believed, is a true history of the origin of most of our Indian hostilities. (U.S. Government)

It was around this time that the U.S. military began an unofficial mission to wipe out the buffalo, a critical source of food for Native Americans as well as an important component of their religious rituals. The government’s goal out west had been to drive Native Americans onto reservation lands, and killing the buffalo became a tool to force compliance. Without the buffalo, Native Americans would have less reason to wander onto non-reservation lands to hunt and they would have to rely more on food supplied by U.S. traders, making them economically dependent[2] and therefore, easier to control. William Cody, nicknamed Buffalo Bill, was a prominent buffalo killer who helped to carry out the destruction of the buffalo population, which shrank from 30 million to the 20,000–25,000 that remain today in public herds. (Phippen)

Killing the buffalo was part of a total war campaign, which was nothing new when it came to U.S. military action against Native Americans. Total war uses violence against civilians and burns homes, crops, and food stores as a way of weakening the enemy in numerous ways with the goal of squashing all resistance. (Dunbar-Ortiz 64) Another aspect of total war began in 1866 when African Americans were allowed to free themselves from servitude and join the military in segregated units that were deployed out west to fight Native Americans. By design, the two minorities were pitted against each other, and it’s no coincidence that the African American units, called “buffalo soldiers,”[3] sustained the heaviest losses of all American forces. Stanford L. Davis, a descendant of a buffalo soldier, explains why African Americans fought against a group who was also oppressed by the U.S. government:

Slaves and the black soldiers, who couldn’t read or write, had no idea of the historical deprivations and the frequent genocidal intent of the U.S. government toward Native Americans. Free blacks, whether they could read and write, generally had no access to first-hand or second-hand unbiased information on the relationship. (Davis)

Fighting on the side of U.S. provided wages—albeit lower than what white soldiers were paid—as well as guaranteed food and lodgings, which was more than they’d ever had under slavery. The U.S. government liked the arrangement, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, because “it was a good way of getting rid of the Black soldiers and the Indians.” (Dunbar-Ortiz 146–49)

General William Tecumseh Sherman, who commanded armies out west after the Civil War, helped bring total war westward where, before, it had mostly been used east of the Mississippi. This happened soon after the Fetterman Massacre[4] of 1866. Lieutenant Colonel Fetterman had been leading troops into Sioux-, Cheyenne-, and Arapaho-held lands to keep the Native Americans from blocking settlers who wanted to cross treaty-protected lands to the recently-discovered gold mines in Montana. Unhappy with the breach of treaty, Native Americans attacked and killed all of Fetterman’s 80 soldiers. In response, General Sherman wrote to President Grant, “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women, and children.” (Dunbar-Ortiz 145)

Things worsened when gold was discovered in the Black Hills by Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s troops shortly after the Treaty of Fort Laramie was made in 1868, which guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Sioux. The ensuing gold rush was an obvious breach of the treaty, which would lead to the Great Sioux War of 1876. (Dunbar-Ortiz 152) To add insult to injury, the Indian Appropriation Act of 1871 ended the making of formal treaties with Native Americans, though it didn’t invalidate any former treaties that had been made. Even though treaties themselves were a form of colonialism that often forced tribes to either cede lands/give up rights or face bloodshed, this was not a good thing. This weakened Native American sovereignty as tribes were no longer able to formally negotiate their rights with the U.S. government. (Dunbar-Ortiz 142) Growing resentments led to the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 where 225 soldiers under the leadership of Custer were preparing to launch an attack on the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull led their tribes into the battle, killing Custer and a significant portion of his troops. (Dunbar-Ortiz 151)

Genocide by Assimilation

The colonial invasion didn’t end with the death of Custer, and by 1890, most Native Americans had been relegated to reservations. (Dunbar-Ortiz 153) Having won the West, the U.S. turned away from murder and scorched-earth warfare and looked toward assimilation. Genocide, by definition, is the killing of people with the intent to exterminate, but it’s also assimilation with the intent to kill a culture. (Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker 58–66) Step one of the genocide was mostly complete, and now it was time for step two.

One method of assimilation was through government-mandated boarding schools designed to assimilate Native Americans into American culture. The first example came in the dungeon of Fort Marion, where Native American prisoners were shackled, their clothes taken, their hair cut; they were given soldiers’ uniforms and expected to train for the U.S. army under the motto “Kill the Indian and save the man.” This turned into the first official boarding school—which was off-reservation to encourage further assimilation—called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, founded in 1879. Many Christian missionary boarding schools followed soon after. At all these institutions, Native Americans were prohibited from speaking their languages or practicing their religions. Instead, they learned English and Christianity, losing all connection to their heritage in the process. When these students got out of the schools, they were no longer Native Americans, but they weren’t white folks either, leaving them somewhere in-between, destined to never belong anywhere. (Dunbar-Ortiz 151)

In 1887, the Dawes General Allotment Act continued assimilation efforts by dividing Native American lands up into 160 and 80 acre plots with the goal of forcing more tribesmen to be farmers. An important caveat was that any Native Americans who received land became U.S. citizens as well, whether they wanted to or not. (Dunbar-Ortiz 157–58) An 1851 official report from the Department of the Interior sheds light on the attitudes that gave birth to such a policy:

“To tame a savage you must tie him down to the soil. You must make him understand the value of property, and the benefits of its separate ownership. You must appeal to those selfish principles implanted by Divine Providence in the nature of man for the wisest of purposes, and make them minister to civilization and refinement….and they should be taught to look forward to the day when they may be elevated to the dignity of American citizenship….” (U.S. Government)

There was pressure for Native Americans to do as the government asked and move onto the separate plots of land, because any surplus lands not taken by them would then go on the market for white settlers. Unsurprisingly, by 1932 white settlers had taken two-thirds of this allotted land on top of what had previously been stolen, and the social structures of the tribes were weakened as a result of the spacial separation. (Dunbar-Ortiz 157–58)

The Ghost Dance came to the Sioux in the 1890s as a form of resistance that was decidedly un-American. It was reportedly encouraged by Sitting Bull, a leader of the Sioux who, by 1881, had returned from exile in Canada after his involvement in the Battle of Little Bighorn. The dance involved wearing a “bulletproof” shirt and promised a return of Native American life as it was before colonialism. U.S. military forces who were monitoring the Sioux reservations didn’t like it, and Sitting Bull was arrested as a way to encourage the other tribe members to stop. (Dunbar-Ortiz 153–55) Sitting Bull was later killed by one of his captors at Standing Rock, creating another layer of meaning for the resistance that would take place there against the Dakota Access Pipeline more than 100 years later.

After Sitting Bull’s death, another Sioux leader named Big Foot caught word and started heading toward the Pine Ridge Reservation to turn himself and his tribe in; there was a warrant out for his arrest because of his refusal to submit to reservation life. On the way, Big Foot’s tribe came across U.S. troops and were taken to Wounded Knee Creek. The 350 Sioux were surrounded by troops and two machine guns. All weapons were confiscated from the Native Americans, but one man tried to hold onto to his rifle. When we was grabbed by an officer, the rifle went off and then the machine guns began firing. Right there, 300 Sioux died and only those who could run fast enough were able to escape. Though most Native Americans were already living on reservations under military supervision, this massacre signaled the end of the armed resistance by Native Americans. (Dunbar-Ortiz 154–55)

In the wake of such blatant genocide, which the U.S. government then struggled to cover up as an act of war to avoid legal trouble (Dunbar-Ortiz 157), questions arise about morality in early America. When was murder a crime and when wasn’t it? Shortly after the Wounded Knee Massacre, Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz, provided some insight on the matter in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer:

The Pioneer [sic] has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. (Dunbar-Ortiz 156)

Though the government had by then turned away from the idea of total extermination, Baum helps to disprove any theories that claim the U.S. didn’t realize their actions were wrong. Though it’s essential to refrain from judging history from modern moral principles, Baum admits that what the U.S. military—under the control of the U.S. government—had done to the Native Americans was in fact immoral, and not just through the lens of modern morality. Any argument that white settlers, military personnel, and members of the U.S. government didn’t find murder to be morally reprehensible doesn’t hold. The process for trial by jury and punishment for capital crimes—to include murder—was written into the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, meaning it’s more accurate to say that only murder against white people was reprehensible at the time. Genocide against Native Americans was disguised as an act of war, protecting white murderers of all stripes from accountability by the law. (“Fifth Amendment”)

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 followed the Wounded Knee Massacre, giving all remaining Native Americans U.S. citizenship. In theory, this meant that Native Americans would be allowed to vote, but this wasn’t the case in many states and like African Americans, Native Americans were widely disenfranchised. Even so, the Citizenship Act was the assimilation policy realized. By then, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had existed for exactly 100 years, and had been responsible for the decision to educate Native American children in the militaristic boarding schools previously discussed. Their role has always been to facilitate the relationship between Native American tribes and the U.S. government, which has developed into a forced relationship wherein the oppressed relies on the oppressor for many essential services like healthcare[5] and education. Critically, the BIA was originally nested within the Department of War (later renamed the Department of Defense) until 1849 when it was transferred to the Department of the Interior. The fact that the BIA—designed to act as a go-between for the creation of treaties and policies related to Native Americans—was part of the Department of War at all is telling about the U.S. attitude toward Native Americans at the time of the bureau’s establishment in 1824. Any matter to do with Native Americans was a matter of war. (“Bureau of Indian Affairs”)

The legacy of assimilation can be seen on BIA’s website, which says, “Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution vests Congress, and by extension the Executive and Judicial branches of our government, with the authority to engage in relations with the tribes, thereby firmly placing tribes within the constitutional fabric of our nation.” (“Frequently Asked Questions”) Placing tribes within the constitutional fabric of America directly represents the colonial relationship that formed, which assumed that the Native Americans wanted to be part of that fabric to begin with. As such, Native Americans have lost the ability to exist outside of the context of their relationship to the U.S. government, showing that in some ways, assimilation through colonial conquest has been successful, even if assimilation has failed in other ways.

The Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934, also called the Indian New Deal, banned the selling of Native American lands and decreed that any unsold lands should be returned to tribes. The New Deal also gave a small amount of self-determination over judicial and government matters to the tribes. Of course, not every tribe living on reservation land was willing to accept this New Deal, which represented to some a continuation of forced assimilation. This New Deal helped further a paternalistic relationship between the U.S. government and tribes that had existed since Chief Justice John Marshall. In 1831, Marshall said that tribes were “domestic dependent nations” and their relationship to the U.S. “resembles that of a ward to his guardian.” Many Native American tribes didn’t want to be wards of the state in 1831 or in 1934, however. They wanted self-determination and self-sufficiency. They wanted to live beyond the colonial relationship they had been trapped in. (Boxer)

During World War II, a fear of communism spread throughout the United States, shifting the congressional response to Native American affairs. The Indian New Deal was out and the termination policies of 1945–1953 were in. Andrew Boxer, in an article for History Review, explained that termination policies “would mean that BIA could be abolished, the reservations broken up, Indian resources sold off and the profits divided among tribal members. Indians would become just like any other Americans—responsible as individuals for their own destiny.” (Boxer) The post-war aim was to force assimilation into American society once and for all, ignoring the fact that many Native Americans didn’t want to be part of the society that was responsible for their oppression. Arthur Watkins, a senator from Utah, compared the termination policies to the Emancipation Proclamation, implying that Native Americans had been enslaved by their continued connection to their heritage, and would be happier once they were free of it:

With the aim of “equality before the law” in mind our course should rightly be no other. Firm and constant consideration for those of Indian ancestry should lead us to work diligently and carefully for the full realization of their national citizenship with all other Americans. Following in the footsteps of the Emancipation Proclamation of ninety-four years ago, I see the following words emblazoned in letters of fire above the heads of the Indians—THESE PEOPLE SHALL BE FREE! (Boxer)

However, just the phrase “termination policy” has a negative connotation that betrays the true motive behind assimilation: to terminate Native American culture, a form of cultural genocide. Termination was foremost a cost-cutting piece of legislation, designed to rid the government of all costs to keep services for Native Americans on reservations. The termination of reservations would also mean that Native Americans were subject to full taxation by the U.S. government, whereas before they were exempt from most taxes. Subsequent progress toward assimilation into American society was measured by the amount of Native American blood in a person’s genealogy. The closer to 0 percent Native American blood a person had, the closer they were to becoming an American (which is to say, white). The goal here was to breed Native American blood out of the gene pool, truly exterminating them in the most literal sense. (Valandra)

Part of termination was Relocation, which took place between 1948 and 1961. This involved government funding that facilitated the movement of Native Americans off reservations and into U.S. cities to get jobs and traditional American homes. The program was a failure because not enough money went into the program to offer the services needed to aid people with assimilation, and many Native Americans ended up back on reservations. The program did succeed, however, in getting 30 percent of Native Americans to live off reservation lands. The Indian Claims Commission was another element of termination, which was set up to hear claims of stolen lands and offer settlements in the form of money, but not returned property. The idea behind the commission was that a government that didn’t have any remaining legal obligations to Native Americans was closer to ridding itself of the state-ward relationship that demanded government investment and responsibility toward the care of Native Americans. (Boxer)

Legacy of Colonization in Modern America

Termination was abandoned in the 1960s, but assimilation continued to take place in other, less obvious ways. Herein lies one of the legacies of the colonization of Native Americans: their oppression has become a normalized part of American society. The examples are legion.

  1. Some people drive Jeep Cherokees without realizing that this is the name for the Native American tribe that was slaughtered on the Trail of Tears. Jeep continues to use the name, even reviving it from its retired state in 2014. Jim Morrison, director of marketing for Jeep, said of the car’s name, “We just haven’t gotten any feedback that was disparaging.” It should be noted that the Cherokee tribe hasn’t received a single royalty payment for this usage. Other uses of tribal names for cars include the brand Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas, whose head was used as a hood ornament. Jeep also had a model called the Jeep Comanche for a time, as well as the Jeep Comanche Eliminator. (Collins)
  1. People read or watch The Last of the Mohicans and believe, as the story portrays, that all the Native Americans have died out; the myth is pervasive enough that Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker wrote a book about it called, “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans. Even I didn’t realize that there are over 500 federally-recognized tribes to this day. (Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker 1–13)
  1. People sit down to enjoy a football game between the Redskins and Cowboys, not realizing that it’s literally a game of Cowboys versus Indians. Others still don’t realize that the team name “Redskins” is highly offensive because it refers back to a time when the U.S. government offered bounties for the scalps of Native Americans. Once scalped, Native Americans were called redskins for the bloody strip leftover on their heads. (Dunbar-Ortiz 64–65) Its continued usage is a racial slur, but Redskins team owner Bruce Allen continues to refuse a name change. (“Redskins President”) Likewise, the continued use of “Chief Wahoo” as a mascot for the Cleveland Indians baseball team perpetuates racist caricatures of what Native Americans are like. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) created a poster showing three hats, two of which featured the New York Jews and the San Francisco Chinamen in repose next to the Cleveland Indians logo as a way to demonstrate how racist the use of Chief Wahoo as a mascot is. (Leonhardt)
  1. The name for the state of Texas, which was land taken by the U.S. government from Native Americans (and won via a war with Spain), comes from the Caddo tribe’s word for “friend.” North and South Dakota, again comprised of lands taken from Native Americans, comes from a Dakota Sioux’s tribal name, which means “allies.” (“Native American State Names”) Both these examples show how the U.S. government down-played their involvement in land theft and genocide even within the process of state-building, using words like “friend” and “allies” to encapsulate a false idea of the U.S.-Native relationship. This is to say that some states were created from the beginning to perpetuate a no-fault history of the United States, a history that has been taught within classrooms across America. Additionally, people rarely realize that the towns and counties they live in and the roads they drive on often are derived from Native American words or tribe names. Where I’m from in Virginia, Powhatan County is named after the Powhatan tribe. Similar, the Powhite Parkway is a highway named after the Powhatans, but the word “Powhite” itself is slang, possibly created to refer to the tribe in a derogatory way. To make matters worse, most people (me included) pronounce Powhite as Po-white when really, it should be pronounced Pow-hite. (Kollatz)
  1. The Texas State Board of Education stated in 2015 that the purpose of history is to “teach students to be proud American citizens.” This is a no-fault way of saying that history should be “white-washed” or told in a way that glosses over the ugly parts of America’s history, including the full scope of colonial crimes against Native Americans. One such concept that is taught is called terra nullis, or the belief that America belonged to no one when the settlers arrived. Perpetuating this idea rids the U.S. government and military of any responsibility for the land left or genocide of Native Americans. (Dunbar-Ortiz 2) The myth of Thanksgiving as a celebration of the friendship between white settlers and Native Americans is another myth that pervades American education, wrongly teaching children that the relationship between the U.S. and Native American tribes has been positive. (Greener) Shannon Speed, a Chickasaw citizen and director of Native American and Indigenous studies at the University of Texas at Austin, argues that delivering an edited version of American history doesn’t make patriotic citizens, but angry ones: “My students are usually quite surprised to find that they have been provided a white-washed version of history. They are often outraged. They feel lied to….Omission of the truth is, in fact, a form of lying.” What happened to the Native Americans at the hands of white people is historical fact, and the continued denial of this enables cycles of oppression against Native Americans to continue. (Speed)
  1. Through the years the names used to refer to Native Americans have shifted between Indians, American Indians, racial slurs like squaws or Injuns, Native Americans, First Nations, Indigenous peoples, among others. The reality is, however, that all of these names exist only within the context of colonialism. Before Columbus set foot on South America thinking he was in India and began calling the non-white people he saw “Indians,” the separate tribes were just that—tribes. They didn’t have an overarching name for their collective kind because they weren’t a collective. From the very first attempts to group Native Americans into a lump category, they were being colonized and shaped by Europeans. Even the term “Native American,” which I’ve used in this paper, contains the legacy of colonialism within it because the underlying message is that Native Americans—though the original inhabits of America—are not real Americans and need their own separate category to ensure that the division is clear. The fact that there wouldn’t have been an America at all for tribes to be native to without the colonial efforts of white settlers further shows that the term “Native American” carries the legacy of domination.[6] (Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker 145–49)
  1. To this day, the U.S. military is still deeply connected to its past of warfare against Native Americans[7]. When the U.S. military is on enemy land, they call it “Indian Country.” Military equipment still bear names like UH-1B/C Iroquois, OV-1 Mohawk, and AH-64 Apache. During the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden, he was referred to as Geronimo after the Apache chief who regularly evaded U.S. military troops. (Dunbar-Ortiz 56) Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “…the legacy of settler colonialism can be seen in the endless wars of aggression and occupations; the trillions spent on war machinery, military bases, and personnel instead of social services and quality public education….” (Dunbar-Ortiz 229) The evidence can be seen in how the BIA receives far fewer tax dollars than America’s military. Annual spending for BIA is about $2.8 billion, and for the military it’s about $598 billion. (“Military Spending”) An attitude that began as a tactic to displace Native Americans, militarization has become the backbone of America. Each president since George Washington has continued the tradition of militarized colonial and imperial missions that have won the U.S. their place on top of the global hierarchy. (Dunbar-Ortiz 108)

Through these examples, it’s evident that we have taken the existence of Native Americans and quietly inserted them into our language, our state names, the places we live and the highways we drive on, our sports teams, our car names, our literature and film, and our military equipment and terminology even as we have erased them from history textbooks. This quiet, invisible presence amid efforts at erasure encapsulates the legacy of the colonial relationship between the U.S. and Native Americans, and there is perhaps no better way to describe what “termination” sought to and has achieved at doing within the context of American society. Assimilation was never designed to give equal rights to Native Americans; it was designed to erase them and their culture. Every time someone talks about the “Redskins” or driving on the “Powhite” without realizing that those terms live within our colonial relationship to Native Americans, we get one step closer to that erasure. In this context, it’s not hard to understand why Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker wrote a book about the myth that “All Real Indians Died Off,” confronting the very real efforts to erase Native Americans even as their legacy stays behind, ensnared in the language of our colonialism.

In the wake of termination policies, it’s unclear whether the U.S. government believes Native Americans are best assimilated or left to their own self-determination. Even today in 2017, the status of Native Americans in our society is unsure, and it’s not certain whether Native Americans prefer to stay on reservations, to be assimilated, to retain self-governance under U.S. jurisdiction, to completely declare independence from the U.S., to continue relying on old treaties and services provided by BIA, or a combination thereof. In theory, it’s possible that the U.S. government still hopes one day to dissolve the reservations and fully assimilate Native Americans into American society, which may explain why they invest minimally in the infrastructure and services on reservations. Perhaps if life is difficult enough and Native American governments feel like they aren’t capable of self-determination in a way that makes their lives on reservations feasible, Native Americans themselves will ask for phase two of termination. No matter what the Native Americans decide, they are damned. Assimilating can be seen as forgiving the genocide that was done to their ancestors and joining up with their oppressors, betraying their heritage. Our own Declaration of Independence refers to Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages.” (Millet)

But staying on reservations spells out an equally dim future. Drug use—particularly meth—is higher among Native Americans than any other ethnic group. (McDonald) Health care is abysmal in areas where it exists and facilities are broken down to the point that in some hospitals, sewage leaks in operating rooms; on other reservations, there are no doctors to be found. (“Why Care at Native American Hospitals”) Native Americans are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by police. Native American youths have the highest suicide rate of any ethnic group. (Millet) Crime rates on reservations are 2.5 times the national average and fewer cases from reservations are prosecuted by the U.S. government. (“Higher Crime”) Native American women are raped at twice the national average, and on some reservations, women are raped at 12 times the national average. (“Native Americans Struggle”) Infant mortality rates are 60 percent higher for Native Americans as compared to white people, and AIDS occurs 50 percent more often. Native Americans abuse drugs and alcohol at a younger age and higher rate than any other ethnic group, and experience psychological stress 1.5 times more often than the general population. (“Native American Communities”)

Native Americans are also the poorest people in America, with poverty rates at twice the national average, meaning one in three are living in poverty. (Millet) The unemployment rate among Native Americans is double that of the general population, and only 61 percent of working-age adults are either working or looking for a job. Native Americans get a college education at half the rate that white people do. (Peralta) More than a dozen reservations have unemployment rates over 80 percent, and economic opportunities are hard to come by and even harder to create. (Schilling) Little money is invested in bringing jobs to Native American reservations; rather, the expectation seems to be that Native Americans must move off the reservation if they want to find work (as seen in 1948–1961with Relocation). A lot of them do move off reservation to find work, as evidenced by the participation rate in the U.S. military; Native Americans make up the largest per capita number of soldiers of any ethnic group (Gover), which seems odd when you consider how the U.S. military was created to acquire Native American lands through force to help build the American empire (and fight the British in the Revolutionary War). (Dunbar-Ortiz 57–8)

It’s clear from these statistics that colonialism has had dire consequences on the Native American population. Rather than developing as the sovereign nations they were at the time of U.S. independence, they have been forced to move only in the directions that we have allowed them to move. Unemployment, deep problems with alcoholism and depression, poor healthcare and education: these are not offhand coincidences, but consequences of the systemic oppression of Native Americans at the hands of the U.S. government. (Dunbar-Ortiz 230) Even as sovereign nations, many Native American tribes are essentially powerless to change their own situations, thus is the complex, continuing colonial relationship they have to the U.S. government. Before Native Americans can even focus on deciding how they want to move forward beyond the box created for them by colonialism, something fundamental must change in the U.S. attitude toward them. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire writes that the oppressed can’t fully release themselves from their oppression even though their resistance is critical to liberation. The oppressors (U.S. government) must recognize their oppression and the humanity of those they oppress (Native Americans), leading to their mutual release from a troubled relationship, damaging to both in its own ways. Freire writes:

Discovering himself to be an oppressor may cause considerable anguish, but it does not necessarily lead to solidarity with the oppressed. Rationalizing his guilt through paternalistic treatment of the oppressed, all the while holding them fast in a position of dependence, will not do. Solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is solidary….true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them these “beings for another.” The oppressor is solidary with the oppressed only when he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated in the sale of their labor—when he stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love. True solidarity is found only in the plenitude of this act of love, in its existentiality, in its praxis. To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce. (Freire)

This excerpt can be applied to the actions of the U.S. government in that we have recognized the oppression of Native Americans, but continue to hold them in a position of dependence. President Obama signed a piece of legislation in 2009—ironically, a resolution as part of a defense spending bill—which stated that the U.S. government wronged Native Americans and needed to recognize the important contributions of Native Americans throughout America’s history. And yet, the legislation changed nothing. It seems we have recognized to some degree our role as oppressors, but signing an apology to Native Americans and not sharing it with them or anyone else, as President Obama did, is the farce that Freire wrote about. We say we care, we say we recognize Native American rights, but the colonization continues, for example, on Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,170 mile pipeline (Mele) that, if built, will carry 450,000 barrels of crude from North Dakota to Illinois every single day (Plumer). The pipeline was originally proposed to run northeast of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) shut it down because the pipeline would threaten the state capital’s water sources (Plumer), which, it can’t be ignored, feed areas of the state where mostly white people live. Rather than give up the project, DAPL owner Energy Transfer Partners[8], decided to move the pipeline further southwest, right outside tribal lands owned by the Sioux and beneath the Missouri River. (Sack)

Native American tribes that were slated to be affected by the new DAPL route were notified by USACE on February 17, 2015. By August 4, 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux had filed an injunction against USACE for issuing Permit 12, which would allow parts of the pipeline to be built beneath federally-regulated water in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). (“A History of Native Americans Protesting”) In the injunction, the Standing Rock Sioux argued that the pipeline’s threat to sacred sites and clearing the DAPL as a non-risk to local water sources were both violations of the NHPA. (Earthjustice) Within 11 days, Energy Transfer Partners sued the Standing Rock Sioux and their legal representation, Earthjustice, for blocking construction that was federally approved to move forward. By August 22, protesters began gathering at constructions sites of the proposed DAPL in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The protests, which have now been ongoing for more than three months, are the first time since the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 that all seven tribes that comprise the Sioux have put their differences aside to come together in solidarity at the Oceti Sakowin[9] Camp.

On September 3, 2016, bulldozers dug a two-mile-long path through a sacred Sioux site that had just been discovered and was waiting to be reviewed by the state’s historic preservation office. Coinciding with this event, the peaceful protests turned violent when private security forces came in with dogs and mace, which was captured on video. (Plumer) At least 30 were maced and 6 bitten by dogs, but this was only the beginning of the militarization of the protests, which the Sioux wanted to be peaceful. A decision on whether construction would be halted or not was expected on September 9, 2016, and in the days leading up to it, more protesters arrived in addition to police forces. The DAPL quickly grew into one of the largest Native American protests in history. On the 9th, a district judge named James Boasberg dismissed the Sioux’s request to stop construction. (“A History of Native Americans Protesting”) Boasberg said of the decision:

This Court does not lightly countenance any depredation of lands that hold significance to the Standing Rock Sioux. Aware of the indignities visited upon the Tribe over the last centuries, the Court scrutinizes the permitting process here with particular care. Having done so, the Court must nonetheless conclude that the Tribe has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here. (Meyer)

On the same day, the Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior refused to grant permits to build in the region being protested and the Obama administration announced that they would not allow the project to go forward. In the meantime, while the USACE reinvestigate the pipeline’s impact on the environment and sacred grounds, the protests have continued. In October, demonstrators began occupying privately-owned land north of the reservation, where part of the pipeline is proposed to be built. The Sioux claim that the land is theirs as part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. (Plumer) The treaty states that the Sioux did, in fact, sign the land over to the U.S. government, but a number of Sioux chiefs refused to ever sign the treaty, and at least one other chief who did sign felt like he’d been misled and didn’t realize the treaty involved any exchange of land. (Sack)

Though the protests on these privately-owned lands have been mostly peaceful, demonstrators have been met with increased militant forces and riot police. By late October, police began using more aggressive tactics such as firing at the crowd with rubber bullets, spraying them with water cannons in freezing temperatures, and arresting people in large numbers to be taken to the Morton County Correctional Center where they stayed in chain-link cells that resemble dog cages. Tear gas and mace have also been used, in addition to tasers and sound cannons. (“Police Tactics”)

To be clear, the protesters were not entirely peaceful. A small number of them lit fires and resisted arrest. A statement from the Sheriff of Morton County, Kyle Kirchmeier, provides an alternative perspective on a violent outburst that happened in September:

Any suggestion that today’s event was a peaceful protest is false. This was more like a riot than a protest. Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles.

The aggression and violence displayed here today is unlawful and should not be repeated. While no arrests were made at the scene, we are actively investigating the incident and the individuals who organized and participated in this unlawful event. (Adelmann)

Others think the militarized police forces are not called for. Tarah Demant, the senior director of Amnesty International’s Identity and Discrimination Unit, said that the number of police present, the gear used (to include riot gear, semi-automatic weapons, and armored machinery), and the force with which they have made arrests are all examples of excessive force in the context of the protest. The use of the word “riot” from Morton County Police is also of concern for Demant, who said, “We’ve seen this in multiple places across the world, and in dictatorships. Declaring that something is a riot is a way to shut down protests.” (Carpenter) People have a constitutional right to peacefully assemble and protest[10], and according to Rob Keller, a spokesman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, not all the protestors are being disruptive: “It’s the same 200 to 300 agitators. That leaves 1,600 in the camp that are peaceful and want to do it the right way.” (Adelmann) Sheriff Kirchmeier said of the police forces present at the protests, “We have done nothing but demonstrate patience and restraint. The last thing we want is a confrontation.” (Hersher)

Shutting out all of the voices just to silence a few and denying that the protests have been militarized is oppressive, especially when one considers the history of militarization against Native Americans. (Dunbar-Ortiz 57–8) Dave Archambault II, chairmen of the tribe, said:

This country has a long and sad history of using military force against indigenous people—including the Sioux Nation. I would like to think that those days are past—and that today Tribal rights cannot be ignored and military force cannot be used to suppress Indian people. But when I see the militarization taking place in North Dakota against Indian people, I am genuinely concerned. (Hersher)

The Standing Rock Sioux haven’t backed down[11] for a reason, and it’s because they believe that what they’re fighting for is critically important. “Water is life” has become the rallying cry of the protest, and that’s because if the DAPL is built as currently routed underneath Lake Oahe, the Sioux’s water sources are in danger. The Standing Rock Indian Reservation is only half a mile away from where the proposed pipeline would run, and if any leaks were to occur, they would contaminate local water sources—particularly those used by the Sioux. Leaks are likely to happen, too, if Sunoco’s (who recently acquired Energy Transfer Partners) record is any indication. Sunoco has leaked crude oil from onshore pipelines more than 200 times in the previous 6 years, and according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the company has the worst oil spill record of any other oil company. (Hampton)

Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, explained during a segment with PBS that the pipeline would be made with “extra-thick” pipe, “more so than just the normal pipe we lay” and would be located between 90 and 150 feet below the lake’s surface. He said, “Number one, we’re not going to have a leak. I can’t promise that, of course, but that — no one would get on airplanes if they thought they were going to crash. And, number two, there is no way there would be any crude contaminate of their water supply. They’re 70 miles downstream.” (Adelmann) In reality, an oil spill can travel more than 70 miles downstream if the Exxon Valdez spill is any indication, having spread 1,300 square miles (though this took place on the ocean, not a lake). (Thompson) It’s also important to note that the Standing Rock Sioux don’t live 70 miles away from where the pipeline is proposed to be; their reservation lands start only a half mile away from the site. (Sack)

We’ve seen this before. We’ve seen the U.S. government create policies and wage wars against Native Americans with the goal to displace them and economically benefit from their lands. We’ve seen the continued forms of Native American resistance that have cropped up in the form of protests, law suits, and the formation of groups like the American Indian Movement (AIM). The U.S. government has a long history of breaking treaties they’ve made with Native Americans, and to go along with that, a long history of not respecting the property, the sovereignty, and most critically, the lives of Native Americans. With the DAPL in particular, the U.S. government failed to adequately discuss the pipeline and its consequences with the Sioux—a critical part of the government-to-government relationship that the BIA claims to work hard to maintain[12]—undermining their sovereignty as a nation and a people. (Plumer) Kim Tallbear, professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, put the Standing Rock protests within the context of the long and complex relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. government when she said, “This is not new….The contemporary tactics used against indigenous people might look a little bit more complex or savvy, but to me, I can read it all as part of a longstanding colonial project.” (Donnella)

The DAPL physically represents continued colonization, but it also represents the values and beliefs of the two warring sides that haven’t changed much since colonial times. We have the Native Americans on one side, who believe that we must protect the earth and its resources, and we have wealthy investors and oil companies on the other side, who believe that the earth and its resources are something to be extracted and used for immediate human benefit. The latter is cut from the same cloth as early Americans who saw the land that belonged to Native Americans as pieces of property that could be diced up and sold for profit, learning nothing from the tribal relationship to nature as a partnership rather than a monopoly. (Fonda)

On the surface, it may seem that the Sioux, along with all the other Native Americans who stand in solidarity with them, are fighting simply for sacred grounds and rights to clean water. But they’re fighting for more than that, and they always have been. By protesting, the Sioux are asking for recognition by the U.S. government that they have a right to exist as a sovereign people with their own desires for their future apart from the plans and economic advances that the U.S. is determined to make at any environmental or human cost.

Since the early days of colonization on the frontier—when Native Americans were forcibly pushed from their homes, their crops burned and people killed; when the U.S. military put bounties on their heads, sending a message that the only value they had was as a scalp in the hands of a white man; through land-grab policies; bloody wars with high civilian causalities; the concentrated slaughter of the buffalo; culture-destroying boarding schools; forced moves onto less-fertile reservation lands far away from their native hunting grounds; and termination policies that sought to assimilate and silence—Native Americans have been fighting for the same thing: the right to continue living peacefully on a healthy earth. The Standing Rock protest is a continuation of this same fight.

Now, as ever, the U.S. government has the power to decide the future of the Standing Rock Sioux, a decision[13] that will continue writing the same story of colonization that we have been writing for more than 300 years, or will begin writing what we can only hope will become the story of decolonization. For the Native Americans protesting at Standing Rock and all their allies, the hope is for the latter, but looking at the long and troubled history of colonization, it’s easy to see another victory for the former.

They keep fighting for justice anyway.


[1] Colonialism, for the purposes of this essay, is defined as the forced displacement of a group from their native lands in order to gain and exert political control over them and the economy.

[2] Previously, the U.S. military had worked to intercept Native American trade routes, destroying them and forcing tribes to rely on U.S. goods and traders, setting a precedent for the systematic slaughter of the buffalo. (Dunbar-Ortiz 85)

[3] Bob Marley’s famous song “Buffalo Soldier” pays homage to these African Americans who were used as pawns to fight the American colonial war on the side of their oppressors against those who, like themselves, were oppressed. (Dunbar-Ortiz 148)

[4] Note the use of the word “massacre” to describe a battle wherein many white people were killed. In the annals of military history, there is often a pattern for whether conflicts are remembered as battles (when the enemy sustains greater losses) or a massacre (when U.S. troops sustain greater losses). (Dunbar-Ortiz 145)

[5] Native American healthcare issues were formally transferred to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in 1955. DHHS was the Department of Health, Education and Welfare at that time. (“Frequently Asked Questions”)

[6] Many Native Americans will respond to most terms that aren’t racial slurs, but prefer to be referred to by their tribal nation, as part of the Sioux or the Chickasaw, for example. (Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker 145)

[7] The continued debate about second amendment rights also stems from the legacy of militarization against Native Americans, wherein white settlers felt it was necessary to be able to arms themselves against Native Americans, and the U.S. government readily agreed—an attitude that has persisted even if it’s no longer directed at Native Americans. (Dunbar-Ortiz 227)

[8] Energy Transfer Partners will soon be merging with Sunoco Logistics Partners, one of the largest owners of pipelines in the country, in what is being called “Trump’s deal.” It’s predicted that the merger is bad news for environmentalists and the Standing Rock Sioux and good news for oil companies. Trump owned a stake in Energy Transfer Partners until he sold it the summer of 2016, and the company donated $100,000 to his presidential campaign. (“The Company Building”)

[9] The name Oceti Sakowin itself means “Seven Council Fires” and represents all seven tribes of the Sioux. (“Oceti Sakowin”)

[10] Though to be clear, it’s illegal to protest on private property, as the demonstrators have been. It’s complicated because the many of the Sioux still believe the land belongs to them based on the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, even if the U.S. government says otherwise. (Plumer)

[11] The Sioux have a long history of not backing down in battles against the U.S. government. There was the Battle of Little Bighorn, for example, where they resisted the theft of the Black Hills. (Donnella) There was a lawsuit in 1923 wherein the Sioux sued the U.S. government for taking the Black Hills, and citing fifth amendment rights to just compensation, demanded $700,000 in damages. (“SIOUX SUE NATION”) And then there was the lawsuit in 1980, when the Sioux were awarded $122 million for damages caused by the theft of the Black Hills, which the Sioux continue to refuse. They don’t want money; they want the return of their land. The account, which has been accruing interest, is now worth more than $1 billion. More recently, in 2007 the Sioux declared independence from the U.S. in protest of the land theft committed against the Sioux. (Harlan)

[12] From BIA’s website: “A federally recognized tribe [which the Sioux are] is an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs….Furthermore, federally recognized tribes are recognized as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government (i.e., tribal sovereignty) and are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States.” (“Frequently Asked Questions”) (Emphasis from original)

[13] On December 4, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would deny the current DAPL route through sacred Sioux lands and underneath Lake Oahe, a decision that came one day before protesters were expected to be off private property. (Medina and Sottile) On January 24, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that asked the USACE to expedite the environmental review process, which had stalled the pipeline’s progress back in December. Trump also requested the USACE bypass the environmental impact study altogether, allowing the pipeline to be completed quickly. On January 31, 2017, Representative Kevin Cramer (R-ND) announced that an easement had been granted to Energy Transfer Partners, allowing them to build underneath Lake Oahe. That came after Secretary of the Army, Robert Speer told USACE to grant the easement despite the illegality associated with not completing the requisite environmental impact study. The Standing Rock Sioux are trying to fight the easement in court, but construction is wrapping up on the Dakota Access Pipeline. (“Clashes Break Out”) Oil is expected to begin flowing through the pipeline during the week of March 26, 2017. (Wiles)


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