Illustration by Anna McGrew.
Illustration by Anna McGrew.

Nearly 1,200 miles of pipeline stretching from North Dakota to Illinois will potentially affect the lives of 17 million people who rely on the Missouri River for water. A portion of the pipeline cuts within a close half mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation — threatening to once again endanger the land rights of indigenous people.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is an pipeline that would transport oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to a processing plant in Illinois. The project is costing Dakota Access, a group under Energy Transfer Partners, $3.8 billion and will transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

A transportation system of this size threatens spillage into the farmland, forests and three major rivers — the Big Sioux, the Missouri and the Mississippi — it crosses through. Any oil spill could affect wildlife and people who rely on these water sources, including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which relies on the Missouri for drinking water and irrigation for its crops.

According to The New York Times, North Dakota’s oil industry had over 8,690 oil spills between 2006 and 2014. Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune said to Mother Jones, “It’s not a question if a pipeline will malfunction, but rather a question of when.” The spill will not only be detrimental to the surrounding environment, but it will contaminate the water many people rely on and poison entire communities. This amount of potential risk should mean more to the oil companies than whatever profit they will make — especially if lives are at stake.

Just as the residents of Flint, Michigan were endangered with contaminated water, the Standing Rock Sioux are face to face with the possibility of crude oil seeping into their main water supply.

Bernie Sanders and four other senators penned an open letter to President Obama asking for an environmental and cultural review of the pipeline after a federal appeals court chose not to halt construction on Oct. 9.

Such review could stall the construction and call into question the potential impacts of this pipeline — a risk the Energy Transfer Partners should not favor over the well-being of millions of people.

While celebrities like actress Shailene Woodley and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman made headlines for their arrests during a peaceful protest, an unprecedented 200 native tribes gathered in Standing Rock to protest the pipeline, the biggest moment of pan-indigenous solidarity in history. The fact  that Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also joining this protest shows this isn’t just an issue Native Americans are facing. Native Hawaiians protested the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the sacred Mauna Kea, and the fight for sacred land rights has long been an issue for indigenous people.

The disregard for sacred indigenous land rights is all too familiar in the narrative of American history, and it’s time for change.

Beyond the environmental and safety impacts, this pipeline threatens the sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux. In an appeal to the United Nations, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Treaty Council wrote, “this pipeline’s construction is being carried out without the Tribe’s free, prior and informed consent in direct contradiction to their clearly expressed wishes.”

Without considering indigenous treaty rights or seeking tribal consultation, the federal government is continuing America’s tradition of dismissing tribal sovereignty.