In Native American tradition, there is widespread belief that the Great Spirit created the earth.
I am a member of the Choctaw Nation and we can trace our ancestry to Mississippi and parts of Alabama. Some Choctaws believe we originated from Nanih Waiya, a sacred hill near Noxapter, Mississippi. There is a very deep connection in native tribes to the land and animals. We are kindred spirits.
Our sacred native lands have been threatened since the appearance of European settlers. Nanih Waiya was part of the land taken from the Choctaws during the Indian Removal era. It wasn’t until August 2008 that the mound was returned to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
Native lands and archaeological sites continue to be threatened (Tweet this), but now oil and gas development is to blame.
Currently in Utah, a coalition of tribes, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, has come together to protect part of their ancestral home. The coalition has proposed a U.S. Presidential National Monument designation under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect historical and scientific objects in Southern Utah.
The proposed Bear Ears National Monument would encompass 1.9 million acres of ancestral land. Within this land lies more than 100,000 American Indian archaeological sites. Many of these sites have been imperiled by vandalism, looting, and recreational vehicle use.
A poll showed that 71% of Utah’s citzens support the monument, but not everyone is on board. Some Utah politicians with longstanding interests in mining and oil and gas extraction oppose the the monument. The protections would prevent leasing to these industries. Utah lawmakers even passed a resolution opposing the monument in May 2016. However, the president can still approve the monument.
While the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 exist to provide protection for American Indian burial sites and artifacts, it’s often tough to secure this protection. The Sac and Fox tribe has struggled with Keystone XL pipeline over this since 2014.
Recently, tribes have been protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline that will run from North Dakota to Illinois. Tribal officials fear the pipeline could contaminate their drinking water. Though it appears the pipeline is a done deal, many tribal members and others participated in a 500-mile spiritual relay to show their opposition.
Iowa, the last of the four states the pipeline would go through, granted a permit approving the pipeline in March. In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revoked the approval of Iowa’s DNR sovereign lands construction permit in three counties where the pipeline would cross the Big Sioux Wildlife Management Area, which is a historic and cultural site of the Upper Sioux tribe.
However, on June 6th, Iowa state regulators gave the go-ahead for construction to start on the Bakken oil pipeline. This was despite a complaint by the Sierra Club that the action is illegal.
The Fight to Protect Native Lands Continues
As this fight continues, another pipeline battle is happening on the Bakken formation. The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota has been dealing with the oil boom in the Bakken formation.
In just five years, the Bakken formation has gone from producing 200,000 barrels to 1.1 million barrels of oil in a day. This oil boom has attracted many to the state. North Dakota currently has the fastest growing population than any other state in nearly a decade. Over the past 10 years the state’s population has grown by 18.9%.
The oil boom has brought a lot of money to the state. But with the infusion of funds, tribal officers are struggling to keep up with a large increase in drugs and crime. And the small tribal police force has no jurisdiction over non-natives. So often, tribal officers are force to let criminals go.
Violent crime in North Dakota’s Williston Basin region, which includes Fort Berthhold, increased 121 percent from 2005 to 2011.
Native Families Are Suffering
Many natives now feel unsafe in their own community.
Along with a housing shortage, contamination from a frack fluid spill impacts families. Native American children, with their still developing bodies, are most susceptible to the contaminates from drilling and mining on native lands.
Protect Native Lands
Giving protection to native lands not only helps secure our rich history, it protects the environment for future generations.
“For years, the tribes have had to trust the federal government to look out for their interests. Now we are looking to the tribes to protect ours. I’m willing to bet that they will do better than the United States has done for them.” – This Ancient Place Deserves Membership in America’s Culture Club
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