“We must put aside our tendency to focus on issues of land and treaty and think of these issues from a broader, indigenous perspective,” said Associate Professor of History Melissa Franklin-Harkrider.

Harkrider, along with professors Captain David Iglesias, Christopher Keil, Matthew Milliner, Gene Green, senior Zachary Erwin and Al Eastman of the American Indian Center, addressed a crowd of students, professors, alumni and other Wheaton-area residents at a Feb. 23 information meeting. The meeting covered issues surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and discussed indigenous sentiments, legal concerns and environmental implications.

The message about understanding the indigenous perspective resounded throughout the lecture as speakers attempted to compress over 500 years of history into 90 minutes. According to Harkrider, the issue of land holds deep social, political and spiritual significance for the Sioux and other indigenous groups. “It is not dirt, territory to be exchanged,” she said. For these peoples, land is directly linked to their history and respect for both past and future generations.

The Obama administration froze construction of the DAPL in 2016 to investigate protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota. The Sioux claimed that the Army Corps of Engineers had violated the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty that called for “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the land. The site, though just north of the recognized reservation, according to Eastman, is on unceded treaty territory and could affect the main water source of the Standing Rock tribe.

Eastman, an adjunct professor and member of Rosebud Sioux tribe, said the native peoples refer to the DAPL as the “Black Snake,” alluding to a generations-old prophecy that warns of a “Black Snake” that would bring destruction. Eastman described the protest camps as an ecovillage, an example of “how we should be living.” Amidst the brutal use of concussion grenades, rubber bullets and mace, Native peoples, veterans, millennials and celebrities have stood together to protest the DAPL for months on end. Erwin attended the protests in November to acquire additional footage for his documentary, Still Here: A Native American Story. He said, “They’re not fighting for peace; they’re standing for peace. I think that’s an important distinction.”

The DAPL website claims that the pipeline is the “safest” and most “environmentally sensitive” way to transport crude oil from wells to consumers. However, the original path was moved to its current location after Bismarck residents refused the risk to their local water supply. Keil, a professor of environmental science, agreed that “the potential health effects are quite significant” if there are large leaks. However, “pipeline leaks do not kill as many people directly” and may be the “safest” way to transport crude oil. “But that’s not necessarily the question we need to ask going forward with the DAPL,” he said.

“It’s coming to Illinois; it will affect us here … this isn’t something that is far away,” said Eastman in a Q&A panel following the lecture. Indeed, plans show that the DAPL will end near Patoka, Ill., just four hours south of Wheaton.

Feb. 22 marked the mandatory eviction deadline for protesters at this camp, with those who chose to remain facing arrest, jail time and fines. The Army Corps of Engineers began the cleanup process, which included removing copious amounts of waste and temporary shelters in anticipation of spring flooding. Construction on the pipeline could be completed by the end of spring, according to The New York Times.

“But we will continue, we will stand strong,” said Eastman. “Eventually, we will win this battle.”

Wheaton students interested in examining Native American living in the United States can now enroll in Colonialism & Redemption, a B-quad CORE class that Green and Harkrider will teach. Milliner will also be leading a unique Art Survey class at the Wheaton College Science Station this summer. The class will focus specifically on Native American art and students will have the opportunity to visit and interact with leaders of the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.