Members of the Native American Student Union, Young Democratic Socialists and the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation gathered at Tommy Trojan Thursday afternoon to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil conduit passing near the ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The students hope to raise awareness of the struggles that Native Americans face as well as the environmental issues raised by the project.
The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is a 1,172 mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that aims to connect production areas in North Dakota to the existing pipeline in Illinois through South Dakota and Iowa in order to transport crude oil. The pipeline, if completed, would transport approximately 470,000 barrels per day.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, located in North and South Dakota, is a sovereign nation that makes decisions regarding the general welfare of its people, their property and the environment. This summer, a group of activists from the tribe filed a petition to stop the Energy Transfer Partners company from constructing a pipeline near the Missouri River in North Dakota. Ongoing protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters led a federal appeals court to order a temporary halt to a section of the construction on Sept. 17.
“The purpose of the protest is two-fold,” said Ben Hiller, a member of the executive board of the Young Democratic Socialists. “The first is for environmental reasons, and the second is solidarity with the indigenous people of the Midwest. Approximately 35 percent of mining and oil extraction from the ground occurs on sovereign lands that rightfully belong to indigenous people.”
Lynn Wang, a junior majoring in environmental studies, said that she is concerned because the pipeline represents continuous disrespect toward indigenous rights in the United States.
“Their rights are seriously being infringed by the construction of the pipeline,” Wang said. “As victims of genocide, they deserve our respect and consideration. We believe that continuously working to prevent these infringements on their sovereignty is very important just to maintain the human rights they are entitled to.”
For Sienna Tso, an undeclared sophomore, this issue is close to home because she is a Native American. Tso, a member of the Navajo tribe, said that because the pipeline will cross the Missouri River, upstream of its water intake pipes, the tribe fears for the safety of its drinking water.
“Water is a basic human right that we need to make sure our people have,” Tso said. “[The protest] hopefully will spread the message to people on campus, because there is not a huge Native American demographic here.”
According to David Delgado, a junior majoring in theatre and gender studies, the students want to stand together as a community and support Native Americans all over the country.
“This is more of a display of solidarity than a protest,” Delgado said. “We are a part of this movement because so many of us go through our daily life without thinking of the true minorities of America, be that a social or cultural minority. We are bringing a national argument and a national discourse to USC.”
Henry Mattei, a junior majoring in environmental studies and economics, said that he came to the protest because of his involvement as an organizing director for the Bernie Sanders campaign, an experience Mattei said opened his eyes to the issue of corporate money in politics.
“I have been an environmentalist ever since I was a small kid, and for me, when we value our environment and the planet, we have to value our people,” Mattei said. “I realized that we really have to address that issue seriously. It is important to listen to people who have been standing for these rights and speaking out on these issues for a long time.”