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A Native American Perspective

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline were front-page news until only recently, trending skyward on social media and a hot topic of conversation around the world since last spring.

Proponents say the pipeline will create jobs, boost the economy, reduce oil imports and allow the United States to move further toward energy independence. What’s more, they say that the pipeline also will cut down on oil spills that can occur during transport (e.g., May 2015 oil-train derailment in North Dakota).

Opponents raise concerns about future water contamination, whether or not we should prioritize burning more fossil fuels, the destruction of cultural tribal lands, and the ethical issues involved.

When looking in from the outside, the situation raises questions about sustainability.

Native American tribes have always understood the importance of protecting the land that they live on. The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) states “Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and other Indigenous peoples have a long tradition of living sustainably with the natural world by understanding the importance of preserving natural resources and respecting the interdependence of all living things.”

More over, Stuart Harris, a member of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, gives insight to Native Americans’ viewpoint on sustainability.

Harris stresses the importance of recognizing and understanding that that all pieces of all ecosystems are connected. Everything that we do changes the environment in some shape or form.

He and others, including a majority of tribes in the U.S., believe in self-restraint to prevent over-consumption of resources and limit damage to the lifestyles of future generations to come.

The Iroquois Confederacy created the Seventh Generation philosophy that “mandates that tribal decision makers consider the effects of their actions and decisions for descendants seven generations into the future.”

Native Americans have understood this for generations, as their ancestors once relied solely on what the land offered them. As their ancestors before them, they, too, want to provide a sustainable future for their descendants. 

Native Americans believe all living things have a right to fair access of necessary resources and opportunities. If other peoples will join them in this belief, it will benefit our collective future.

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