Being an American Citizen: Are We Doing it Right?

Lauren Salzman Co Editor-in-Chief Last week in my American Civilization English class, Mr. Marshall asked us to read Jean de Crèvecoeur’s speech entitled “What is an American.” De Crèvecoeur documents the amount of land and opportunities that one can acquire once they come to America. We were then asked to present to the class one thing that de Crèvecoeur would be surprised about and one thing he would have predicted if he were transported to present day. My group found a line in “What is an American” that read, “The power of the crown in conjunction with the [mosquitos which have] prevented men from settling there…” There is no context needed to recognize the blatant disrespect that has been cast upon Native Americans since colonial times. We expressed to the class that de Crèvecoeur would not be shocked about the lack of publicity about the North Dakota pipeline. When we brought this point to the class’s attention, some nodded in agreement, while others feverishly looked around pretending to know what we were talking about. For those who do not know, Native Americans are protesting the creation of a pipeline by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. It is slated to transport half a million barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois. Hundreds of Native Americans from all different tribes, along with environmentalists, are protesting in North Dakota where the pipeline crosses under the Missouri River. The main issue that is being protested is the invasion of private property and the fear that emissions and leakage from the pipeline will damage the natural resources on the reservations it passes through. Amy Sisk, a reporter for the company Inside Energy, noted in her NPR interview that, “In what’s usually an empty field, there are cars, trucks, teepees and tents surrounding me in a site near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in … North Dakota.” Native Americans from all different tribes and of all different ages have congregated in protest. One particularly striking image is of Alice Brownotter, a twelve-year-old girl, who led a crowd of one hundred protesters. Brownotter, like most others, is worried that if the pipeline were to leak, the drinking water on the reservation would be compromised. The Standing Rock tribe, the closest tribe to the pipeline protest, requested a preliminary injunction. Their reasoning, Sisk explains, is that, “the U.S. Army Corps which approved the pipeline in July failed to adequately consider its impact on sacred sites.” Arguments were presented to the U.S. district judge, James Boasberg, and he ruled against the tribe. However, this past Friday (9/23), the Obama administration halted the project just after Judge Boasberg’s verdict was released. Recently, President Obama has become very involved in the issue. That being said, he is under increasing pressure from the oil industry groups and lawmakers, who believe the administration is overstepping, to stand down after having intervened multiple times by temporarily suspending construction.  American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerald told Fox News that, “The administration’s recent attempts to change the rules … set a dangerous precedent for our country that could threaten other infrastructure projects like bridges, roads, and electricity transmission.” If President Obama can reverse the decision made by a district judge in North Dakota, then what is stopping any president from halting other construction projects? But the pipeline does have benefits. It would create upwards of 8000 construction jobs and pump approximately $156 million worth of sales into the economy. The main question surrounding the North Dakota Pipeline is the same as nearly every environmental issue in recent history. Will the economic benefits outweigh the social benefits of the people whose land would be infringed upon? Most children are taught in school about how the colonialists took the land of the Native Americans. Our narrative stems from the idea that we were superior to them in culture and practice. In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes that, “eliminating ‘savages’ is less of a moral problem than eliminating human beings, and therefore American Indians came to be understood as a lesser race.” This is by no means a new idea. By objectifying a whole culture and treating them as “less-than,” we justify what we have done to insult their culture and intrude on their land. Regardless of one’s stance on the issue, there is no ignoring the fact that this event has been grossly under-publicized. Native Americans have been protesting the pipeline for nearly two years and now a small portion of the public is finally become aware of this grave controversy. The average U.S. citizen may not realize his perception of Native Americans, but regardless, it has been engrained in our culture to view them as tribal and lower on the constructed “social chain” of race. In order to discuss the pipeline and unify the tribes, all tribal leaders had a meeting earlier in September. They all agreed that they were not in support of the pipeline being built, but the meeting was never publicized and one article (maybe) was written about it. Never before has there been a constructive meeting of all the tribal leaders in which an issue was agreed upon. We will never all agree, that is inevitable, but the recognition of other people’s ideas, customs, and cultures is pivotal in being an aware citizen. You do not need to be interested in the pipeline, or the presidential debate, or even politics in general. But you do need to be informed. If we have a community of informed citizens, the world (and our classrooms) will be a safer place. In the end, De Crèvecoeur’s most important point is about the melting pot of the colonial United States. He writes that, “They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race now called Americans have arisen.” A diversity of culture and a diversity of ideas is one of the platforms that this country is founded upon. However different our background may be, we are all still Americans. And each and every American deserves the respect of their neighbors. ]]>