The US government’s relationship to the original inhabitants of North America and to the millions of Native Americans who are here today, is long, complicated, and problematic. This relationship should not be made worse through continued oppression, which is the exact effect that the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline has had. Today, most Native Americans live in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming, with nearly half living on established reservations across the country.
In 2017, those of Native American ancestry faced one of the most significant and controversial public battles of the time. TC Energy, an American-Canadian oil provider, attempted to construct a 1,000-mile-long extension of an oil pipeline through the Sioux Tribe’s territory in North Dakota. The mass movement to resist the pipeline and their motto, “Stand with Standing Rock,” gained national attention and sparked outrage over what many saw as a violation of the tribe’s rights and a threat to their land and drinking water. In response to the movement, then President Barack Obama signed an executive order halting the pipeline’s construction.
President Donald Trump renewed the controversy over the Keystone XL Pipeline when he signed an executive order of his own, allowing TC Energy to resume construction along the same planned route as before. However, as those who recently filed a lawsuit against Trump argued, treaties and agreements over land privileges for Native Americans still stand legally, despite their being signed over 100 years ago. So why should the US government or an oil corporation have the right to build on Native American land against their will?
Many argue that pipelines are statistically the safest method of transporting crude oil — when compared with rail, boat, or truck transportation — because they are the least likely to spill. That said, these alternative transportation methods spill much less oil with each accident. If an oil-carrying truck were to crash, it would only release about 1,000 gallons of oil into the ecosystem, as opposed to hundreds of thousands to millions released by a single pipeline spill. This argument was proven on October 31, when the existing Keystone Pipeline leaked nearly 400,000 gallons of oil into North Dakota farmland and became the largest oil spill in the history of the state. According to the Sierra Club, any large oil spill wipes out most of the wildlife within a ten mile radius of the contaminated area, which affects the entire food chain as well. The human inhabitants of oil spill territory have it just as bad; in the case of the Sioux in North Dakota, a spill would threaten their main water supply. This has been one of their objections to the pipeline.
For these reasons, there should be no further construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and especially not on the land that the US government and corporations have no jurisdiction over.