Indian communities were dismayed when President Donald Trump signed executive orders restarting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. Indian communities and environmentalists opposed both projects pointing out that sacred lands were jeopardized, as well as drinking water, treaty and indigenous rights.
The administration says it will renegotiate parts of the pipeline projects to conform better to Indian interests. However, one usually negotiates before making the key decision like moving a project forward. The two pipelines are similar to many projects that Indigenous Peoples want to have a voice in and even the power to prevent since they threaten sacred sites and jeopardize healthy communities.
Indigenous Peoples are confronted often with losses of land, in part because Indian lands are often relatively powerless to successfully oppose building of dams, pipelines, oil drilling and other projects. The administration argues that thousands of good construction jobs will be created, but that is not necessarily true. American oil will find good prices while OPEC and oil producing nations moderately decrease production to increase and stabilize higher oil prices. Both pipelines are designed to bring Alberta and Montana-North Dakota oil, produced from fracking and sand production, more efficiently to market. The encouragement of dubious resource extraction methods as well as increased oil consumption by themselves may create long-term environmental damage.
Indigenous Peoples confront resource extraction markets around the world. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples addresses the issue of prior and informed consent. Often Indigenous Peoples are asked for their input, but most often, indigenous views do not prevail. Indigenous Peoples are not apposed to development per se, but want to see their children and communities benefit from development. They often do not want to see development if it destroys the local environment, and does little to improve the lives of indigenous communities.
Efforts by Indigenous Peoples to stop develop projects harmful to their land, people or cultures, often have rarely succeeded. Some projects that have succeeded are the Northern Cheyenne who fought for the right to clean air when developers were mining and burning coal near their reservation. Another was when Isleta Pueblo won a case against the City of Albuquerque to keep down river water clean enough for human use and pure enough for sacred ceremonial activities. In both cases, one reason the Indian nations won long and expensive court battles was because they had the support of the Environmental Protection Agency. Most likely, tribes involved in the two pipeline controversies now will not secure EPA support for preserving sustainable environmental conditions. The present administration most likely will appoint leaders who prefer the increased development and marketing of low grade oil, rather than support indigenous rights and long term environmental concerns.
Cheap oil is like a drug. There is a market for oil as long as large numbers of people are willing to purchase gas and continue to drive gas-guzzling vehicles. While standing up for environmental and indigenous rights is important, such efforts should be combined with personally engaging the market by not buying or investing in oil products and gas using vehicles. The time is getting closer where electric cars and solar energy may compete with cheap gas and automobiles.
A lifestyle and community built around use and production of solar and other renewable energies may be needed for future planetary and human well-being. Indigenous Peoples want a better economic standard of life, one of the Trump administration’s promises, but indigenous people do not want to sacrifice the land and environment to achieve quick economic gain. A world with markets built around renewable energy and resources, may be the best solution in the long run. Such choices are compatible with indigenous views of respecting the environment and living in ways that enable sustainable environments well into the foreseeable future. Protest and choose consistently with your market place decisions.