Settler Colonialism on Trial at Standing Rock

September 13, 2016
Sunyata Altenor

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s remarkable struggle to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline sparked a movement. Thousands of people – including representatives from more than 180 indigenous nations – traveled to North Dakota in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they defend their rights and protect nature. The companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline responded by using attack dogs and bulldozing their sacred sites in order to forcibly displace them. Mounting pressure from the movement forced the Obama administration to intervene and temporarily stop the construction of the pipeline on indigenous land. However, it would be a mistake to believe that the struggle is over. The U.S. government has a long way to go in regards to respecting its treaties with Native American peoples.

In an act of desperation, local authorities slapped journalists and activists, including Dr. Stein and myself, with misdemeanors for trespassing. Yet the federal government and the companies behind the pipeline should face charges for violating the international rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior, and informed consent. This legal framework – established in International Labor Organization Convention 169, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Human Rights System of the Organization of American States – puts power back into the hands of the people by recognizing their right to reject any legislation or project that could negatively affect them and their ancestral lands. The imposition of this pipeline, as well as several other extractive industries throughout the United States, threatens indigenous ways of life and the environment as a whole. The movement at Standing Rock makes it clear that indigenous issues are global issues. We are unequivocally committed to adhering to treaties with Native American peoples and ratifying international human rights frameworks that protect indigenous rights. The U.S. government has an obligation to  respect  indigenous sacred lands and the sovereignty of indigenous people. The degradation of the planet and the threat to the most precious collective gift from the earth, water, obligates the US government and all rational people to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.


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