The right to protest

Screenshot via Washington Post
Screenshot via Washington Post

By Lauren Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

Since April, protests have been taking place over the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota. The Dakota Access Pipeline has been hugely controversial, as it goes through the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux, and if a spill ever occurred, their source would be contaminated. It will also go through a sacred burial ground. Further, with climate change coming to the forefront of global dialogue, the growth of oil infrastructure has been protested country-wide.

Unlike the relatively peaceful protests of the Kinder Morgan pipeline here in Vancouver, these have been escalating in the level of police violence towards protesters since they’ve begun. In September, protests gained momentum when pipeline workers bulldozed a sacred historic site. However, security at the site used attack dogs against the protesters, and five protesters were bitten.

Over the weekend, the protests took place in 26 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, with the police spraying protesters with pepper spray, rubber bullets, and freezing water. Over 300 people were injured, many of whom had hypothermia from the water freezing on their clothes.

The protests started with only the Standing Rock standing up against the pipeline, but they’ve been progressively joined by people from across the nation who are upset with the way the Standing Rock Sioux have been treated, including celebrities such as Shailene Woodley, who was arrested during the protests, and Mark Ruffalo, who has also worked hard to bring the protests to public attention.

The level of violence and aggression occurring against the protesters is incredibly disheartening. The fact that the Obama administration ignored the 100,000 signature petition hand-delivered by young members of the tribe is saddening, especially because he is billed as such an understanding, progressive president. As the conflict worsens, the majority of media is still not covering it in any substantial way, and most people follow the protests through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. In this divisive time for America, the government and mass media are turning their backs on the Sioux in their time of struggle and need.

Over the past century, the governments of Canada and the US have been trying to slowly rebuild relationships with Indigenous populations, and to me this lack of empathy for their land rights and their communities is a huge step backwards. We are incredibly lucky to be sharing this continent with them; they are, unfortunately, much less fortunate to have to share it with us. In return, the least we should do is be respectful of their land and respect their wishes. So many of these protests stem from the fact that Indigenous communities were not consulted before plans are made; we have seen it many times in BC alone. And with global warming taking place, we have another reason to be fighting back against pipelines: not just to protect North America, but the entire planet.

While we stand against the Trans Mountain pipeline, we need to hold those going through so much terror and aggression close to us. No matter how disheartening this is, it is still wonderful to see so many people organizing in North Dakota to stand against this oppression, hand in hand with the Standing Rock Sioux. We have a right to protest, no matter how hard law enforcement and the military are trying to take it away from those in North Dakota.