Dakota Access Pipeline: Human and Native American rights in the crosshairs, says panel at AAC

Members from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum Delegation to Standing Rock, North Dakota, shares with the UConn community their experiences at Standing Rocin the Asian American Cultural Center on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

Dakota Access’ pipeline project, a pipeline that would deliver crude oil from The Bakken and Three Forks, North Dakota to Illinois, has manifested itself as a leading issue in today’s socio-political climate, which was the subject of a lively dialogue at the Asian American Cultural Center Wednesday evening.

Co-hosted by the University of Connecticut’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a panel of guests from Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center spoke about Standing Rock and gave as much of an in-depth overview about the issue as they could manage in two hours. Topics about the pipeline’s installation, its effects on Native Americans tribes of Standing Rock and what it really means for American progress were discussed and kept the conversation steady.

Two of the panelists had been to Standing Rock very recently. Nekai Northup, an educator at the Pequot Museum, and Cliff Sebastian, a marketing and development associate for the museum, say the unrest, chaos and violence that the media is reporting is simply not what they saw at Standing Rock.

“It’s not hostile out there. There is instead a feeling of family and community,” Northup said.

Northup explained further that there were several camps, with a tribal leader responsible for each camp. From this network of camps, information is quickly gained, understood and disseminated orally. The camps are in a constant state of updating and sharing information as it happens -which is what breeds the strong sense of community, Northup said.

According to another panelist, Chris Newell, an education supervisor at the Pequot Museum, Dakota Access’ pipeline isn’t an issue that came about overnight, it began in 2014. Newell explained that the project bypassed federal intervention and, as a result, a proper federal environmental study was not done. It would have taken a minimum of four years, long before any grounding breaking on the project would have begun to complete the study. If it had been done, the study would have revealed that the pathway of the pipeline would have destroyed sites of irreplaceable cultural significance and burial grounds. It really wasn’t a secret these places were there, Newell said.

Newell described the avoidance of the environmental study as a “loophole” in legislation between State and federal governments. In effect, all of the essential and necessary permissions needed for the pipeline are acquired at the state level and therefore no federal approval or intervention was required or even called for due to State sovereignty.

“What I have learned from social media was a pretty broad picture of everything. What I learned today was things that filled in the cracks of that picture, as it was like a jigsaw puzzle,” Krishna Phai, fifth semester actuarial science major, said.

Just as the event began on Wednesday afternoon, National Public Radio reported that “the Army Corps of Engineers is examining alternate routes,” and in addition, “a federal judge has ruled that work on the pipeline can go forward, but the Army Corps and two other agencies said work would not go forward in an area particularly sensitive to the tribe until a review was completed.”


Matthew Gilbert is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.gilbert@uconn.edu