Asian Americans, We Cannot Be Silent on the Dakota Access Pipeline | #NoDAPL

September 6, 2016
Protesters demonstrate on August 11, 2016 against the start of construction for the Dakota Pipeline Project. (Photo credit: Tom Stromme / Associated Press)
Protesters demonstrate on August 11, 2016 against the start of construction for the Dakota Access Pipeline Project. (Photo credit: Tom Stromme / Associated Press)

A war is being waged right now to defend Native lands and people from fresh exploitation by the United States government, and yet it rages to virtually no mainstream coverage.

This week, protesters entered their fifth month of peaceful protest against the proposed $3.8 billion dollar, multi-state oil pipeline that would when completed transport crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The Dakota Access Pipeline is being constructed by private developers, and will intersect through ancestral lands once held by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as running under the Mississippi River and within half a mile of current reservation land borders. Earlier this year, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the US Army Corps of Engineers denouncing the Corps’ fast-tracked approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline plans, saying that the Pipeline’s construction will threaten sacred sites and risk contamination of the Tribe’s water supply.

The Tribe further argues that the Corps ignored its own policies requiring it to consider the impact of construction projects on the environment and on Native lands in order to “meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.” Dave Archambault II, leader of the Standing Rock Sioux, added:

“The Corps puts our water and the lives and livelihoods of many in jeopardy.”

Last week, the Standing Rock Sioux filed a temporary restraining order asking that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline be halted pending discovery of multiple cultural and historic landmarks that will be destroyed by the project’s continuation. And yet, over the weekend, protesters were met with violence by private security forces. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux, including Archambault himself, have been arrested for trespassing while standing upon the Tribe’s own ancestral lands.

The Corps’ overt disregard for the many concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux in this matter is well in-keeping with this country’s long history of physical, cultural, and economic violence committed by American settlers against the many indigenous peoples whose resources we assert our entitlement over, whose histories we erase, whose sovereignty we ignore, whose blood we shed, and whose lands we callously now occupy.

Right now, hundreds of Native protesters hailing from multiple tribal nations have come together with non-Native allies to form a united front demanding a halt to construction of the Pipeline. As Asian Americans, we must add our own voices to this mix.

Jason Momoa posted a selfie to social media in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and against the Dakota Pipeline in May 2016. (Photo credit: Jason Momoa / Instagram)
Actor Jason Momoa posted a selfie to social media in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and against the Dakota Access Pipeline in May 2016. (Photo credit: Jason Momoa / Instagram)

Asian Americans are relative newcomers to the American political project. Although Asian American history stretches back centuries, the vast majority of today’s Asian Americans are recent immigrants whose presence in this country can be traced back only a few generations. As non-White people, we face profound racism as part of our daily experiences in this country; for many Asian American activists, the injustices endured by our Asian American brethren demand most of our time and energy.

But, as Asian Americans, we must also remember this: we do not and can not live on this land in a political vacuum. We cannot divorce our presence on this soil today from the blood-stained history of how this soil came to be called America. We cannot avoid the consequences of the American Dream we chase, which describes pursuit of personal and political wealth within an American capitalist system rooted in the destruction and exploitation of indigenous peoples and resources.

The Dakota Access Pipeline protests are taking place miles away from most Asian American population centers; but, this does not mean that this fight does not impact us. This fight does impact us, because this fight must impact us.

The fight for racial justice is not a fight that can be won with racial isolationism. Racism is not eliminated when we work to end the oppression for some while we overlook, or even help sustain, the oppression against others. Our activist fore-parents knew a truth some within our generation appear to now have forgotten: we must resist the forces that might divide and conquer us through silence and disregard. The fight to end racism requires that people of colour work together in solidarity, mutual support, and radical love.

My fellow Asian Americans, we are too often silent when our non-Asian allies ask for our help. On issues of indigenous rights, in particular, we often turn away under the false pretense that these issues do not affect us. The fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline construction this year mirrors the fight launched by our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander allies to halt construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea last year: yet, in both fights, the vast majority of Asian Americans said nothing. We did not add our bodies to the frontlines. We did not lend our voices to the outcry. Instead, we were silent, and in our silence was complicity.

How much longer can our community fail to take steps to support our fellow non-Asian people of colour? Why should we expect the help of our allies when, time and time again, we refuse to give it when it is asked for? How can we believe ourselves committed to ending injustice when too often only those injustices that are committed against people who share our melanin actually enrage us to action?

Right now, we have the opportunity to change all of that. We have the opportunity to decide: will we take a stand right now with the Native community, or will we side with those who would continue their appalling tradition of violence against the indigenous people of this land?

All people of colour deserve the right to our own future. I urge you to please do what you can to lend your support to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the rest of the Native community in demanding that the Dakota Access Pipeline construction project be halted. Here’s what you can do:

Read more: We Need to Be Talking About Standing Rock (Hyphen Magazine)

Correction: An earlier version of this post contained misspellings of the word “corps.”

  • pzed

    I just flat out disagree. We as Asian Americans “must” do nothing. I say this even as I’ve signed the petitions and agree with the stance of the Sioux tribe. I as an individual am against the pipeline, but I’m not against it because I’m Asian American. This has nothing to do with Asian Americans politically. There’s no overlapping interest, either for or against. There’s just right and wrong.

  • pzed

    I just flat out disagree. We as Asian Americans “must” do nothing. I say this even as I’ve signed the petitions and agree with the stance of the Sioux tribe. I as an individual am against the pipeline, but I’m not against it because I’m Asian American. This has nothing to do with Asian Americans politically. There’s no overlapping interest, either for or against. There’s just right and wrong.

  • This has nothing to do with Asian Americans politically.

    America is a settler capitalist society. If you stand upon this soil while calling yourself American, then this has something to do with you politically. Further, if you believe yourself opposed to racism, but are only moved to fight racism when it impacts people who share your specific racial tribe, then you can only claim your goal to be to obtain privilege over others within a racist society, not to topple the whole system of racism that has created your oppression in the first place.

  • pzed

    Nice selective quote. I said pretty plainly that I was moved by their cause and signed the petitions, but of course you ignore that part. I agree this has something to do with me, as an American, politically. But no, I completely disagree this is an Asian American issue. Or if it is, then every issue is an Asian American issue such that it becomes meaningless. We can’t get “up” for every cause for every single injustice every hour of every day. There’s not enough mindshare, energy, time, money etc. It’s not possible. Pick and choose the causes where you call for “Asian Americans” as a group to fight for an issue. Make sure it affects them or you get “ho-hums.” That’s exactly what I feel reading your headlines now.

    Also, it’s cute that you have this idea that you can topple the whole system of racism, but racism has existed since the dawn of man. It exists in toddlers who haven’t been taught anything.

    http://time.com/67092/baby-racists-survival-strategy/

    Good luck trying to topple that. Instead, your energy might be better spent trying to manage it. Reduce its excesses, blunt it’s ugliest parts. But if that’s your real goal, you might as well try to genetically engineer a kid from scratch because it’s baked in.

  • Myra Esoteric

    I agree with standing in solidarity with other underrepresented minorities, and also that indeed the area is part of their nation politically, annexed by the US government for shady reasons and now inextricably attached to the US.

    But this is not capitalism, this is war. The fact that Blackwater-style mercs were hired to attack civilians who are part of a separate polity is the very definition of aggression by one state against citizens of another state. It is completely against international law.

    Historically, there have not been enough protections for citizens, which has caused global trade (for example, the slave trade) to have negative externalities that are considered to be on the level of war crimes today. But this is not a problem that is inherent to free markets or capitalism imo.

    Capitalism rests on the basis of property rights and respect for civil rights that inhere to each individual. It is this bedrock that capitalism rests upon that is under attack.

  • Settler capitalism is a sociological term used to refer to economic societies that arise by the domination, subjugation, and destruction of indigenous lands to produce wealth for settlers, and that the destruction serves entirely as a rationale for settlement and wealth accumulation. From the link above:

    [Settler capitalism describes settler colonies involving] an early and significant degree of political autonomy from the imperial power out of which they were established; the early commodification of land and hence labour, with a corresponding
    absence of a large peasantry; relative economic prosperity for white settlers,
    including workers, despite or perhaps because of a highly dependent form
    of economic development that was disproportionately centred on primary
    production for the imperial market; mass immigration of white settlers from
    the metropolitan power and the attendant physical and cultural destruction,
    or at least the brutal subjugation, of indigenous populations. This final
    characteristic was the original presupposition and condition for all the other
    features noted. These contributed to distinctive patterns of inter- and intraclass
    relations and political institutions, which continued to shape realities
    in the settler colonies long after the conditions that gave rise to them had vanished.

    What is happening at Standing Rock is an act of aggression and war, but to focus on this framework, in my opinion, suggests that the war has a beginning and an end, and that the Standing Rock Sioux’s sovereignty was ever respected enough by the United States government to ever invoke formal declarations of war. I don’t think that has ever been true. What is happening now in Standing Rock is not an act of aggression; it is the latest most obvious example of a settler society that has never recognized the sovereign rights of Native people; and who, in fact, have built an entire society of economic development for self around the destruction of those peoples and the taking of their lands.

    The settler capitalist literature has primarily focused on discussion of Australia, but recent work have pointed out that in this regard, Australia and America are almost identical in their history. To use this term is further to draw connection between individual acts of aggression, and to question the whole system that rationalizes the entitlement exercised by both Dakota Access and the Army Corps over Sioux land.

    And indeed, we must remember that in this conflict, Dakota Access argues their right over Sioux land because of the promise of greater wealth for Dakota Access and all Americans (vis-a-vis “cheaper gas for all Americans!”). This is no different a rationale than how indigenous lands were taken hundreds of years ago under the guise of manifest destiny.

  • Good article, but… why does it repeatedly misspell “Corps” as “Corp”?

  • lol, sorry. fixed.

  • There’s so much to unpack here, pzed, but let’s start with this: the study cited has several flaws, both in methodology and in interpretation. 15-month-old infants are not, by any stretch, naive to socialization; in fact, all evidence points to the likelihood that babies are most attuned to learning attitudes and behaviours from those closest to them, with regard to whom they see as community members but also just with regard to the attitudes of their parents to the world. Babies are constantly learning from their environment, and specifically are picking up verbal and non-verbal cues about whom to trust and whom not to trust.

    This study you cite cannot prove that racism is innate, and certainly does not prove that racism “has existed since the dawn of man.” This study only shows that toddlers — who have grown up for 1.5 years in a racially segregated society like America — may recognize the concept of in-group and out-group with regard to race. If you accept that interpretation (which I do not) it says nothing about whether or not that is a learned phenomenon or a biological phenomenon. It says nothing about whether or not naive infants — infants raised in a multiracial society without any concept of race — would see such differences.

    More importantly, the study is designed in such a way that babies are rewarded when they “see race” — i.e., only in the condition when they get more stuff do they “see race” by preferring the instructor who gives them more things than a peer. To that end, it is not clear that this study has anything to do with race, identity, or community. It most likely is a massive over-interpretation of a very straightforward result given positive reinforcement training.

    Overall, your comment forgets two things: 1) that our understanding of both race and racism is relatively modern; and 2) that there is a very large body of work showing that even implicit racial bias is a learned response.

    Beyond that, your comment just makes me sad for you. I can’t imagine living a life so fatalistic that you can’t imagine being able to affect systemic change. Systemic change has happened frequently in America. For example, within our parents’ lifetime, Jim Crow segregation was ended, our ideas of American citizenship and immigration was completely overhauled, and our gay marriage has become commonplace. None of this means we are perfect, but it’s certainly evidence that enough shocks to any system can result in movement; and also that no systemic change has ever occurred without coalitional organizing (and specifically the engagement of people who were moved to fight an injustice that doesn’t directly impact them personally or materially). Your perspective is more than just tragically cynical; it doesn’t match the course of American history.

    I leave with this:

    I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

    -Martin Luther King, Jr.; Letter from Birmingham Jail

    Standing Rock is an Asian American issue because it is a compelling racial justice issue that impacts all Americans, and that connects with indigenous rights issues that specifically impacts AANHPI community members. Further, the notion of silo’d racial nation-states stepping over one another motivated by myopic self-interest is anachronistic, outdated, and has never produced any kind of meaningful justice or change in the world; and I feel nothing but sympathy for you that you would rather accept a system that oppresses you than to be energized to do what it would take to actually make reverberating change in it.

  • Yummy

    But it is okay to be silent about the “Lead” in the water in Flint, Michigan area?

  • Myra Esoteric

    Yeah, I agree that Sunoco Philips and many companies doing this are going to see a real change after the shareholders election this year.

    I actually thought the saying was settler colonialism though because whether it’s communist or capitalist, doesn’t matter. I mean it happens in pro socialist, communist countries as well, but that doesnt mean socialist communist systems are inherently wrong… idk.

  • Myra Esoteric

    Look, what if real estate developers tried to get rid of an Asian senior housing center where our grandparents are living, to put up a mall or condo, this is the same thing.

    Of course my strategy, would be to donate to a large fund to buy the building back or donate to a fund to buy another building in a cheaper area. Local clan and village associations, and religious groups, will also source donations from members. There are many ways of reducing the damage without getting the government involved.

    However, imagine that the real estate developers were connected to the bank, where you were looking for the mortgage. Of course, in some areas you can find an Asian or independent bank that is not linked to Big Real Estate, but not everyone has that option. You can divest from Big Real Estate but institutional investors with 100000 common shares will have the last say.

    Imagine that when you are driving into Little China, Little India, that the real estate group slashes your tire so that you can’t get a second loan on the property or they put a sanction on your bank by crying to the CIA that they are part owned by the government of Pakistan or China or something. Big Real Estate wants that building that bad. That’s whats going on here.

    There’s always going to be biases, but its fucked up and unAmerican for *laws* to treat citizens differently on the basis of where their ancestors originated, their y chromosome dna, mtdna, skin tone, head shape, or whatever factors affect race/ethnicity.

    We’re not talking about a micro aggression or racist joke but about private rent a cops siccing pit bulls on people a la warlordism, which is extrajudicial violence. The fact that the LAW is tolerating extrajudicial violence means they are treating indigenous people differently from other people.

  • It is – settler colonialism is the umbrella term for the violent insertion by the settler onto indigenous lands followed by the assertion of dominance over indigenous peoples.

    Settler capitalism is sort of a subset term, (still rising in popularity and definitely not in ‘mainstream’ usage), that specifically describes the economies of the settler which are built upon indigenous destruction (and rationalizing it) with the desire to develop wealth for settlers, partially as a mechanism by the settler to create economic power and political autonomy given a distant, and fraught, relationship with the colonial empire from which they hail. Because only a handful of papers use the term and rarely in an American context, I chose to only briefly describe the concept and offered links, instead of using the shorthand of the jargon which is still not fully in favor among scholars of the field. Regardless, the influence of Western/European capitalism on settler colonialism is very much a part of that larger concept, whether or not one wants to buy into the phrase “settler capitalism”; that also informed my decision to describe the concept without using the term.

    Also, I don’t think that the use of the term, either here or in the literature is trying to say that all capitalist systems are “good” or “bad”. I’m not sure that there’s much of a value judgement that can or should be placed on capitalist vs. non-capitalist societies in general by noting the influence of capitalist motivations on settler colonialism.

  • trer24
  • Josh

    I assume bc it received devastating coverage as opposed to the oddly lackluster coverage of the pipeline

  • Josh

    Hey could you post an article of the masculinity Asian town hall Twitter thing? Interested in your views thnx

  • pzed

    “It says nothing about whether or not naive infants — infants raised in a multiracial society without any concept of race — would see such differences.”

    You are living in fantasy land if you think we can live in a society w/o any concept of race. Especially considering that it’s a topic of almost 100% of your posts! If there were no concept of race, you’d have no one to blame for all of life’s misfortunes. No cisgender white male patriarchal donkey to pin the tail on. Who is it exactly that couldn’t live w/o race? It’s liberals like you!

    “silo’d racial nation-states stepping over one another motivated by myopic self-interest is anachronistic, outdated, and has never produced any kind of meaningful justice or change in the world”

    Who says we have to step on each other? Asian Americans that don’t wish to support the Standing Rock aren’t stepping on them. They just aren’t supporting them. There a VERY big difference there.

    “Standing Rock is an Asian American issue because it is a compelling racial justice issue that impacts all Americans”

    No it doesn’t. It affects the Standing Rock. That doesn’t mean we (Americans) shouldn’t pay attention and support them, but it affects them and really only them.

    “I feel nothing but sympathy for you that you would rather accept a system that oppresses you than to be energized to do what it would take to actually make reverberating change in it.”

    Except I don’t think it oppressed just me, and I don’t feel especially oppressed. Occasionally I feel there are societal wrongs, but I don’t have a breakdown and a pity party every time that happens. What really galls me though is when people in the group I identify with takes pains to help other groups step on our own group. That is what you happen to do all the time. That isn’t the case for Standing Rock and I have no problem supporting their cause, as I’ve mentioned. I just happen to leave my identity out of it because there’s no reason to bring my race into the story. There’s no narrative where my race matters in my support for their cause.

  • You are living in fantasy land if you think we can live in a society w/o any concept of race.

    You misunderstand. I am commenting on a flawed misinterpretation of the data, and a hypothetical experimental design one would need — with a proper control group — in order to appropriately prove or disprove the hypothesis you put forward. You argue that racism is innate and biologically programmed. To prove this using the experimental design presented in the article would require you to use 15-month-old infants raised without any concept of race, and then tested to see if they showed racial preference. You almost suggest as much in your quote: “It exists in toddlers who haven’t been taught anything.” Yet, that was neither done by the investigators, nor is it really a feasible experiment; therefore, your conclusion from and interpretation of the data are flawed and inappropriate.

    Except I don’t think it oppressed just me, and I don’t feel especially oppressed.

    I think this pretty much says everything about your perspective. You don’t “feel” oppressed (or much inconvenienced) by the systemic oppression that impacts people of colour and other marginalized people in this society, even the oppression that impacts Asian Americans, and so you express a general interest in maintaining that system of oppression. You are unpersuaded by the multiple pieces of empirical evidence that demonstrate the fact of oppression that impacts Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders and other people of colour. You are unmoved by the quite simple and straightforward reasoning that in light of the fact of this oppression, and given that all injustice is intertwined and interconnected, that a society that oppresses some cannot respect the humanity of all.

    Your approach, quite literally, describes a textbook example of stepping over the injustices faced by others out of a myopic focus on one’s own self-interest.

    What really galls me though is when people in the group I identify with takes pains to help other groups step on our own group. That is what you happen to do all the time.

    Please elaborate with examples.

  • You are living in fantasy land if you think we can live in a society w/o any concept of race.

    You misunderstand. I am commenting on a flawed misinterpretation of the data, and a hypothetical experimental design one would need — with a proper control group — in order to appropriately prove or disprove the hypothesis you put forward. You argue that racism is innate and biologically programmed. To prove this using the experimental design presented in the article would require you to use 15-month-old infants raised without any concept of race, and then tested to see if they showed racial preference. You almost suggest as much in your quote: “It exists in toddlers who haven’t been taught anything.” Yet, that was neither done by the investigators, nor is it really a feasible experiment; therefore, your conclusion from and interpretation of the data are flawed and inappropriate.

    Except I don’t think it oppressed just me, and I don’t feel especially oppressed.

    I think this pretty much says everything about your perspective. You don’t “feel” oppressed (or much inconvenienced) by the systemic oppression that impacts people of colour and other marginalized people in this society, even the oppression that impacts Asian Americans, and so you express a general interest in maintaining that system of oppression. You are unpersuaded by the multiple pieces of empirical evidence that demonstrate the fact of oppression that impacts Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders and other people of colour. You are unmoved by the quite simple and straightforward reasoning that in light of the fact of this oppression, and given that all injustice is intertwined and interconnected, that a society that oppresses some cannot respect the humanity of all.

    Your approach, quite literally, describes a textbook example of stepping over the injustices faced by others out of a myopic focus on one’s own self-interest.

    What really galls me though is when people in the group I identify with takes pains to help other groups step on our own group. That is what you happen to do all the time.

    Please elaborate with examples.

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