Armenian-American. This phrase means a great deal to me, but it doesn’t always mean much to others. “I’m Armenian,” I tell people. Often I see a blank stare and I reluctantly add “like the Kardashians.” There’s a very tragic reason why the Armenian race isn’t more widely known; namely that there aren’t that many of us left. Between 1915 and 1923, the Ottoman Turks systematically executed 1.5 million Armenians in an act of genocide.
Last year I attended a gathering of Armenians in Times Square. The rally was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. As important as the plight of my own people is to me, the speakers that I found most interesting were the representatives of other populations that had survived attempted extermination. A Holocaust historian addressed the crowd, followed by a Cambodian woman and a young man from the small African nation of Rwanda. A speaker for American Indians, however, was nowhere to be found.
Which brings me to the subject of this article. You may have heard about the controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. Dakota Access, a subsidiary of the Fortune 500 company known as Energy Transfer Partners, is in the midst of constructing an oil pipeline that would run from the Bakken oil fields in the Dakotas to a processing plant in Illinois. The structure would have a profound impact on the members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose (autonomous) land is contained within the U.S. state of North Dakota. Current architectural plans have the pipeline running directly under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the latter of which is the tribe’s main source of drinking water. Any spill or leakage would be disastrous for the 8,000 people of the Standing Rock reservation. The construction would also desecrate a number of burial grounds and sacred sites that, while falling outside the current borders of the reservation, are protected by the United States federal government. The Dakota Access company has taken several steps to get around this, including going out of their way to desecrate these sites; an action which for some reason renders their protected status null and void.
I am a liberal, and I freely acknowledge the fact that liberals like to take up causes. You’re talking to (or reading the words of) a guy who, noticing with distress that his bedroom walls were covered with posters of mostly male musicians, promptly hung up a picture of Norah Jones that he printed out at the library. I bought a “Free Pussy Riot” t-shirt in high school thinking it was a modern art piece. However, I flatter myself to say that I think I have matured a little since then, at least enough to recognize that the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline is not a cause to be adopted, given the “social justice warrior” treatment and eventually forgotten. Because the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy is the latest installment in what I consider to be the greatest tragedy in the history of civilization.
Some historians estimate that as many as 18 million native people were killed within the borders of modern America. When looking at the “new world” as a whole, that number rises as high as 90 million. Ranking tragedies is a deplorable action that minimizes the suffering of the victims. It must be said, however, that Hitler and Pol Pot were prevented from reaching their horrible goals by outside forces more powerful than themselves. That simply won’t happen in this case; there’s no world power to step in when you’re the world power. We Americans who are so quick to be the moral policemen of the world must, in the words of Jodie Foster’s Silence of the Lambs character, “point our high-powered perception at ourselves.”
What the United States government has done and continues to do to the American Indian people is nothing less than genocide. Maybe you agree with using that word in connection with something like Wounded Knee, but you think it’s a little overdramatic in the context of a construction project. I would reply that the definition of genocide is “extermination of an ethnic group.” Effectively turning an entire population into refugees by spilling oil into their drinking water seems like a pretty big step in that direction.
Consider the two most common terms used to describe native people in this country; “Native American” and “American Indian.” We define them in terms of their relation to us. They’re a sideshow, a nuisance, a (literal) mascot. The only thing left to an entire race of people is a few small tracts of land and ostensible autonomy, both of which we clearly don’t respect.
The American Indian is going to extraordinary lengths to fight this pipeline. It is the first time that representatives of every remaining tribe have come together in counsel. But the horrible reality is that they simply don’t have the numbers or the standing to speak for themselves and be heard. They need my help as well as yours.
North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple can be reached at 702-328-2200.
Energy Transfer Partners EVP Lee Hanse can be reached at 210-403-6455.
The petition to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline can be accessed at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/stop-construction-dakota-access-pipeline-which-endangers-water-supply-native-american-reservations
The Sacred Stone Camp gofundme account can be accessed at https://www.gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp
Ara Hagopian is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] Whiny Liberal will appear alternating Fridays this semester.