If history is any indication, campaign promises do not necessarily foreshadow a candidate’s actions after assuming office. They do, however, serve as a mode of accountability and serve to pressure elected officials to act in the interest of the public. For Millennials who believe in a green energy future and an America that upholds the rights of sovereign nations, it is troubling that Secretary Clinton has still made no statement* on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) controversy. It is imperative that we push for a stance from the Democratic nominee as a step towards justice for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and to bring similar issues into the national spotlight.
(*Editor’s note: This post was written before the police and protester stand-off on Thursday, October 27 that resulted in 141 activists being arrested. Secretary Clinton has released a statement on the ongoing protests, though she has not commented directly on the pipeline itself.)
Clinton describes herself as a “longtime advocate” for the Native American community, and the campaign promises to “stand for Tribal sovereignty and in support of Tribal resources and sacred sites.” She also considers climate change to be “an urgent threat” and promises to ensure that “areas too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.” Considering that the land in question was unlawfully seized from the tribe in 1958, DAPL more than constitutes a breach of native sovereignty. The history of oil spills from Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) clearly indicates a major health risk to millions of people in communities that depend on water from the Missouri river.
The next president will have the power to stop the DAPL project. This controversy will likely come to a head after the inauguration, because the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will probably spend a few months deciding whether to issue the final permits. Yet even without the permits, construction is ongoing. On October 9th, the D.C. Circuit Court denied the Tribe an emergency injunction to halt construction on native burial sites around Lake Oahe. Even if the USACE eventually denies the permit, ETP is free to continue bulldozing sacred land while awaiting the final ruling.
Millennials are the largest voting bloc in our country. Our representatives cannot afford to ignore our concerns. We have already contributed to efforts opposing pipeline construction in this election by putting pressure on President Obama and Secretary Clinton to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. Our voices also pushed the Democratic Party to create the most progressive platform in its history. Beyond this election, our efforts are making a global impact in the climate change discussion. The People’s Climate March of 2014 was led by youth organization and put pressure on the Obama administration and other global leaders to take action at the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris.
DAPL is not just an issue of energy policy. The protest represents the largest resistance gathering of native people in over 100 years, created and sustained by indigenous people from over 200 tribes around the country and the world. It is essential that we stand in solidarity with the Water Protectors. We have a critical chance to re-examine our country’s relations with native people only if we allow their voices into the discussion. This problem is not isolated to Standing Rock, as we continue our centuries-long history of seizing native land to produce energy, build roads, and dump waste. Under the next president’s administration, a number of specific policy debates will occur including a senate proposal to seize large sections of native land in Utah for oil drilling. We must recognize and affirm that native voices need to be at the forefront of these debates.
The continued silence from the Clinton campaign on DAPL contributes to the growing concern that the candidate’s public positions may not reflect her intentions. The campaign also accepts donations from lobbyists representing the fossil fuel industry, including Enbridge which is a partner in the DAPL project.
While this is deeply concerning, the alternative is undoubtedly worse. Donald Trump’s declared positions are simply dangerous. His plan to dramatically reduce environmental regulations would put public health at risk and seriously jeopardize the possibility of a sustainable future for our country. He also has a history of unwarranted aggression towards Native Americans during his time in the casino industry. We cannot consider trusting Donald Trump to respect Native people or to take vital action on climate change. Clinton’s silence is disappointing – she must act on her commitment to these issues.
It is imperative that young people not only show up to vote on November 8, but continue to actively organize and hold candidates accountable for campaign promises.