On December 4 The Obama administration denied the easement for the contested Dakota Access pipeline, at long last acknowledging the validity of the water protectors’ cause. As construction for the $3.8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline came to a halt, sympathizers all across the country celebrated as the Sioux tribe and their allies proved that the actions of ordinary people can have an impact.
This is a victory that in many ways is long overdue. In light of that, it’s more important than ever that moving forward Americans own up to the mistakes of the past and stop repeating them.
Part of that means acknowledging that the American government and its people have mistreated indigenous people since the times of European colonization. Following the denial of the easement, a forgiveness ceremony between United States Veterans and Native Americans took place. Wes Clark Jr., the son of retired U.S. Army general and former supreme commander at NATO, Wesley Clark Sr., delivered this apology to the Native Americans in attendance:
"Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness."
A Lakota elder, Leonard Crow Dog, responded to Clark’s apology by saying, “We do not own the land, the land owns us.” He urged the crowd to keep working toward world peace.
The ceremony was powerful and the victory at Standing Rock momentous. One member of Climate Justice Boston College (CJBC), described Standing Rock as a reminder that “when good people resist the status quo good things can happen.” Unfortunately, while tension diffuses on site in North Dakota it’s becoming clearer that if Americans become complacent, the denial may become a temporary measure. Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, can sue this decision while Trump supports the pipeline and can overturn the action once in office.
As Americans, there is a perceived responsibility to stand by the decisions of the government, but remembering that the pipeline was never meant to benefit the American populace but rather a large, wealthy corporation is important to keep in mind. While the American government silently condoned the pipeline, they chose to side with not what is right but what is profitable.
It’s hard to admit that the government is capable of being the aggressor, but in conflicts like these it remains just that. Still, if things seem hopeless, Standing Rock proves that things can and do change as a result of tireless activism. It was proof that while corporations won’t give up power willingly, the people can take it back.
On Thursday Dec. 8, Chief Sâchem Wômpimeequin Wampatuck of the Mattakeeset Tribe came to speak to BC students. His statement that “today is not a day to be silent and today is not a day to celebrate,” reminds students that while Standing Rock remains a victory, the momentum must continue.
In 2016, the conversation on climate change has remained far from being front-page news. The effects of climate change are not yet felt not by the wealthiest citizens, but those the American government can afford to overlook. That is environmental and social injustice, and not the sign of a democratic country.
As the soon to be inheritors of this earth and this country, all Americans need to reflect on what they want their legacy to be. This is the only earth we have and there is no time left to pretend otherwise.