*The more things change the more they stay the same.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is the most recent example in American history of the interests of Native Americans come up against the interests of American society at large.
And if you paid any attention in high school social studies class you know how this will end.
The story of American history is the story of people of European descent expanding their territory. First they established colonies which were the initial expansion of European countries.
But even though we just celebrated Thanksgiving and the cooperation between Native Americans and Europeans, the truth is that there were many more conflicts between different Native American groups and European settlers. Early on in American history Native Americans initially tried to use military force to protect their interests.
But because Native Americans did not have the advanced weapons that Europeans did, and because they did not combine inter-tribal forces, Native Americans consistently lost in physical confrontations with Europeans. When it came down to it, despite the efforts of Native Americans to physically resist, the interests of white men superseded the interests of Native Americans.
Later in American history Native Americans in Georgia brought a federal suit regarding their ability to be secure in their lands. The interests of Native Americans to do with their land what they willed were in conflict with the interests of white Americans who desired to use that land for agribusiness. Even though the United States Supreme Court decided the case in favor of Native American interests, the president at the time decided that white American interests were still more important and decided not to uphold the Supreme Court’s decision. Regardless of the action of Native Americans attempting to use the official methods of the United States, at the end of the day the interests of Native Americans were deemed less important and white men got what they wanted.
After the Civil War Native Americans were pushed on to the least desirable lands within the country. They had also exhausted the possibility of armed resistance and decided to operate within United States law. But when Native Americans appeared to promote interests that were contrary to white American interests in the form of a religious movement called the Ghost Dance, the Native Americans were targeted for investigation. In truth the Ghost Dance was about reclaiming lands lost as white Americans conquered the continent. But it is hard to believe that white Americans believed that such a spiritual movement was a serious threat to the United States and warranted a response from military forces. Furthermore any response is contrary to the First Amendment. As a result of the military monitoring of the situation dozens of unarmed Native Americans were killed. When Native American interests came into conflict with the interests of white men Native American interests were disregarded and whatever would have made white men happy was done.
What reason is there to believe that this current episode between Native Americans and white Americans will turn out any differently? At their core the interests of Native Americans in this instance are about not risking the pollution of their water source. And make no mistake there is a likelihood that this project will result in pollution which explains why the non-Native American communities don’t want the pipeline on their land. On a meta level it is about the supposed sovereignty of Native American tribes. On the other hand the interests of white Americans (perhaps all other Americans if we’re being generous) is about a business opportunity. If all other things were equal you would think that the health of one group of people would be more important than a business opportunity. But all other things are not equal. The fact that the protesters are doing so in a non-violent manner won’t matter. The fact that United States law says that tribal lands are sovereign territories won’t matter. The fact that it is a matter of health won’t matter.
Ignoring the interests of Native Americans in the face of white interests is one of Uncle Sam’s favorite tunes. And the band is setting up.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.