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:
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.
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.”
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