On Tuesday 24th January – his fourth day in office – President Donald Trump signed an executive order to revive the construction of two key oil pipelines in the US, in the latest of a number of moves that have emboldened the oil and gas industry and hampered the efforts of environmentalists. For years, Trump has maintained that climate change is a “hoax”, mirroring the views of many in Congress with financial interests in the energy sector.
He continued to promote such rhetoric throughout his campaign and, upon winning the election, selected Rex Tillerson, CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, as his candidate for Secretary of State. Within hours of his inauguration, the former government’s environmental policies swiftly disappeared from the White House website to be replaced by Trump’s agenda for boosting American production of non-renewable energy. Around the same time, his administration instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to freeze all of its grants and contracts, a move that The Washington Post says “could affect everything from state-led climate research to localized efforts to improve air and water quality to environmental justice projects aimed at helping poor communities”.
But the most controversial of all of these destructive moves is the announcement of the revival of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipeline projects, accompanied by an executive order to expedite environmental reviews of infrastructure projects.
In December 2016, President Obama halted the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in response to the actions of thousands of protesters who gathered on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, home to the local Sioux tribe. The demonstrators cited concerns about the impact of the pipeline on local water supplies and sacred Native American sites.
Demonstrators gather at Standing Rock in North Dakota to protest the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline (image: Buzzfeed)
But this decision represents more than just a threat to water access as it draws on the years of oppression suffered by indigenous people in the area. The source of the tribes’ grievances dates back over a hundred years to when the US government initially entered and began to exploit their land. The tribes have repeatedly faced off against the force of the US army in territorial disputes since the discovery of gold in the 1870s. Over time, the government created treaties with the local Lakota and Dakota peoples, pushing them into smaller and smaller areas, or reservations. These treaties, while debilitating in their own right, were frequently violated.
Given the derogatory and offensive nature of Trump’s rhetoric surrounding all groups of people except white, male Americans, it is no surprise that the rights of indigenous people are not a priority for the new administration. It is heart-breaking for many Americans to watch as, with each signature, Trump seeks to erase all of the positive steps taken by the previous government, trampling on the rights of groups of people in the process. But many are refusing to give up hope.
The Lokota (Sioux) tribe have faced incursions on their land by the US army for over a century.
Bernie Sanders, Democrat Senator and one of Trump’s harshest critics, spoke out yesterday against this latest move, saying:
“Today, President Trump ignored the voices of millions and put the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the future of our planet … At a time when the scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems, we cannot afford to build new oil pipelines that lock us into burning fossil fuels for years to come … I will do everything I can to stop these pipelines and protect our planet for future generations.”
Senator Bernie Sanders questioning Scott Pruitt, climate change denier and Trump’s pick as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, during his confirmation hearing last week (image: The Huffington Post)
The Executive Director of Greenpeace, Annie Leonard, also weighed in on the issue, noting the determination of indigenous communities, local farmers and climate activists to continue to protest to block the projects and saying:
“We all saw the incredible strength and courage of the water protectors at Standing Rock, and the people around the world who stood with them in solidarity … We’ll stand with them again if Trump tries to bring the Dakota Access Pipeline, or any other fossil fuel infrastructure project, back to life … We will resist this with all of our power, and we will continue to build the future the world wants to see.”
It is more important than ever, whether you are American or otherwise, to stand with the Sioux, both to protect the environment for future generations and to prevent another chapter in the history of oppression of indigenous groups from being written.
Header image: National Geographic Society