“I don’t think the measure of civilization is how tall its building of concrete are, but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.”Sun Bear, Chippewa activist
Native American lands have long been at the forefront of struggles for environmental justice and the preservation of indigenous culture. Unfortunately, they have also been exploited and disregarded by mining and oil corporations.
Recently, satellite data revealed that significant amounts of natural gas were being flared on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Satellite images prove massive discrepancies in data that the oil and gas companies operating in the area had been reporting.
Throughout U.S. history, Native American lands have been exploited by mining and fossil fuel industries, leading to irreparable damage to both the environment and the Native American communities that call these lands home.
Disregard for Treaties
Native Americans, through treaties with the United States government, gave up significant portions of their ancestral lands in exchange for some recognition of their sovereignty and promises to protect their health and culture.
However, these commitments were quickly abandoned as avaricious mining and fossil fuel industries sought access to the rich mineral resources on these lands.
The U.S. government ceded to these industries, and gradually shrunk tribal lands, completely disregarding treaty obligations, and blatantly legislated leasing of tribal lands for mineral extraction.
This began the creeping erosion of Native American rights and the loss of vast areas of ancestral lands. Once beautiful wild plains are replaced today by black, stained oil fields and coal and copper mines.
Today, mining and fossil fuel extraction have left a devastating legacy on Native American lands. These industries have scarred land and cultures, and have caused widespread contamination of air, water, and soil, posing serious health risks to Native American communities.
Abandoned mines, including thousands of uranium mines in the American West, have left behind toxic waste that continues to threaten the health and well-being of tribal members. The proximity of Native American communities to these abandoned sites further exacerbates the risks they face, as contaminants leach into the surrounding environment.
Sacred Sites and Disregard for Native American Rights
The destructive nature of mining and fossil fuel extraction goes beyond environmental concerns. Native American culture, traditions, and spirituality are deeply intertwined with the land. And in the pursuit of profit, sacred sites and ancestral heritage are often overlooked.
The Standing Rock conflict, where the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline threatened the sacred land and water sources of the Lakota and Dakota peoples, serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle to protect indigenous culture and spiritual values.
And the U.S. government’s mismanagement of Native American Tribal trust funds has only helped compound the injustices faced by communities. The limited reparations fail to compensate for the environmental and cultural damage caused by mining and fossil fuel industries.
The only possible way to secure a just and sustainable future is to ensure that our leaders prioritize the rights of indigenous communities and the protection of the environment.
Moreover, honoring the sovereignty of indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands is essential. Respecting the demands of Native American communities and keeping minerals, oil, and natural gas in the ground, as science shows, is the only way we can protect the environment and vulnerable communities. We need to transition to sustainable energy sources.
The exploitation of Native American lands by mining and oil industries has caused irreparable harm to the environment and communities.
Recognizing the urgency of this climate crisis is crucial, to protect our planet and to honor indigenous sovereignty.
Hopefully we can relate to our environment and fellow man, relate to the beautiful people and beautiful country that we live in to protect our nation and its diverse traditions and cultures — rather than build our cities higher, give into greed, and pump pollution into our atmosphere.