Protesters gathered in North Dakota

Nantinki Young — known as Tink — stirs large pot of soup for protesters gathered along the banks of the Cannonball River in North Dakota. (William Yardley/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

It appears that history is repeating itself. The United States government is yet again placing its own interests above the well-being of Native Americans. In North Dakota over the past few months, the Sioux people of Standing Rock have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a planned oil pipeline, on the grounds that it would pollute their water. The protests have been peaceful; tactics have included marches and roadblocks. However, government responses to these protests have been unjustifiably violent.

At the beginning of the protests in August, it seemed the clash was a gray area. It received very little media attention and in mid-September, construction was ordered to a halt. However, arrests were made, including the Standing Rock tribal chairman, and police allowed dogs to attack the protesters.

However, more recently, Dakota Access, LLC, the company trying to construct the pipeline, has resumed construction and the protests are receiving more attention. This is in part due to the nature of the protests, which have Native Americans versus the federal government, but also in part due to prominent figures outside the tribe becoming involved in the protests, such as Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and Shailene Woodley, a well-known actress.

Despite this increased attention, the situation remains sketchy beneath the surface. For instance, during the protests, cell service was reportedly much worse than it typically is, making it difficult for the protesters to communicate their struggle. Additionally, Hillary Clinton has not made a committal opinion on the situation, despite that the Democratic Party typically values environmental issues, which the pipeline undoubtedly falls under. 

More importantly, however, most people do not support the pipeline. As far as the protests have received attention, public opinion has been overwhelmingly on the side of the Standing Rock tribe. What this means is, despite months of peaceful protests, many arrests and the involvement of prominent figures, the federal and local governments have decided yet again that their interests and the interests of businesses come before the safety and concerns of Native Americans. This time, however, the citizens are not on their side.

Very recently, the facade of proportionate containment of protests was dropped as police in riot gear opened fire with rubber bullets on protesters and horses, used pepper spray against peaceful protesters and released percussion grenades. Additionally, a prayer circle was broken and medics were attacked. There is no longer any false impression that police response to these protests is justified.

This clash comes during a time of high discontent in the political atmosphere of the United States as most people do not align themselves with a candidate and find the states of the country and election process to be abhorrent in vastly differing ways, and during a time when awareness of racial injustice and the historical injustices toward the Native Americans is arguably at an all-time high.

The federal government is making a grave mistake, whether it decides next to turn its cheek or to meet the protests with more violence. It is becoming increasingly clear to most people that the government does not have the people’s best interests at heart. To act as it does now is to deepen the resentment of many, and to reopen the wounds of the systemic racism and injustice toward Native Americans which are just beginning to heal. There is more to these protests than simply being against a pipeline. These protests and the responses toward them are kindling a flame.