Michael Lawson: Roots of #NoDAPL movement go back decades

A #NoDAPL water protection effort in North Dakota was met by another big law enforcement response on November 2, 2016. Photo by Red Warrior Camp

The historical backdrop leading up to DAPL protests today
By Michael L. Lawson
For the Native Sun News Today

The tribal water and land protectors opposed to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota need to be understood within the historical context of the long-standing negative relationship between the tribes along the Missouri River and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This hostile relationship is in turn set within the context of a longer continuum of interactions going back to the 19th century. The developments etched in collective tribal memories from that era include the U.S. Army’s military defeat of the indigenous Sioux Nations and the federal government’s drastic reduction of their ancestral lands and resources, including the loss of their sacred Black Hills. In fact, one of most dramatic events in this saga of negative relationships took place on the Standing Rock Reservation just about 30 miles south of the present Sacred Stone and other protest encampments. That was the tragic fatal shooting of Sitting Bull, the most famous and dynamic spiritual leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota, at Fort Yates in 1890. This unarmed and cooperative holy man was gunned down by a government police officer.

In regard specifically to the Standing Rock Sioux’s combative relationship with the Corps of Engineers, it began in the 1950s when the Corps constructed the Oahe Dam on the Missouri River just north of Pierre, South Dakota. This project had a devastating impact on the lands, resources, and communities within the Standing Rock reservation, which straddles the border between North and South Dakota.

Congress authorized this multiple purpose dam and four others on the Missouri, which impacted seven other Native American reservations, as part of the Pick-Sloan Plan authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944. Yet, there was no consultation with the tribes prior to this legislation and, in most cases, no formal discussions were held with tribal representatives until long after the Corps had begun actual construction on the projects. The Army simply moved ahead unobstructed by any requirements for environmental impact studies or cultural resource assessments.

In common with the developers of the DAPL, the Army chose its construction sites to avoid impacting urban areas, including Bismarck, North Dakota, Pierre and Yankton, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. This meant that the brunt of the damages from its dam projects fell heaviest on the Sioux reservations, as well as on the non-Indian farms and ranches adjacent to the Missouri River shoreline.

The Oahe Dam, completed in 1962, caused more damage to Native American lands and resources than any other single public works project in the United States. It inundated 160,000 acres of reservation lands, including 56,000 acres on the Standing Rock reservation. The Tribe’s best land and resources were in the timbered bottomlands along the river. The inundation of this land forced tribal members to take up inferior lands on the prairie, since there were no lands of the same quality left anywhere on the reservation after the deliberate flooding.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: The historical backdrop leading up to DAPL protests today

(Dr. Michael L. Lawson is an historian and the president of MLL Consulting, LLC, in Annandale, VA. He is the author of Dammed Indians Revisited: The Continuing History of the Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux, published by the South Dakota Historical Society Press)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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