By Amanda Weber and Felicia Smolen
Assistant News Editor and Griffin Reporter
The election of President Donald J. Trump has been surrounded by controversy and garnered heavy media coverage and attention. After 20 January, Inauguration Day, Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States. Since this day, some Americans have taken issue with decisions that Trump has made, including the executive orders that he has signed. One of these executive orders involved the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, which had been halted by the Obama administration in December. However, four days after Trump’s inauguration, he signed an executive order that reinstated the construction of the pipeline that would cross through sacred Native American lands. However, the main concern for both the Native Americans on the Standing Rock reservation and individuals across America is the possibility of contamination and pathogens being dumped into the drinking water surrounding the pipeline. This concern for human interest and clean drinking water sparked a local protest, entitled “Water is Life,” which caught the attention of some Canisius students.
The DAPL has been in construction since 2014, with national attention being brought to the issue in the past year. This pipeline, which Trump has stated will create a plethora of job opportunities (28,000 construction jobs, to be exact), was originally supposed to pass through residential areas in Bismarck, North Dakota. However, residents complained and made the case that the pipeline would be detrimental due to its ability to contaminate the area’s clean drinking water. Therefore, the pipeline is now being built under the Missouri River, which has shifted the concern for clean drinking water from one community to another. The Sioux tribe that lives on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota uses this river for their drinking water. In addition, Sioux tribe leaders say that the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the group that reviewed and approved the construction of this pipeline, did not consult with them properly, although the pipeline is not technically on the Standing Rock Reservation. However, according to tribal leaders, it does pass through sacred burial grounds for the tribe.
“The company didn’t ask the right people for permission,” said Brianna Wrobel, a junior at Canisius. “There needs to be more consideration for the basic human right of having clean drinking water.”
Perhaps one of the biggest issues is that although it was deemed unsafe to construct the pipeline under a residential area, it is now apparently safe to build on native lands. Of course, along with the construction of the pipeline and others like it, there comes a much higher risk of the pipeline breaking and causing immediate and large-scale issues with drinking water, let alone any small leaks or other contamination from the installation itself.
This continued controversy and turmoil caused some Canisius students to stand up and join the protest against this breach of human rights. The Griffin spoke with three students who attended the Water is Life protest in downtown Buffalo on 29 January: juniors Sarah Sterzinger, Rue Robinson, and Brianna Wrobel. The protest was slated to start at 1p.m. that day and was to travel from Niagara Square to Canalside and then back to its start. Although the three girls were unsure of the exact number, Robinson noted that a local police officer stated that the number of attendees reached about 400 people. However, according to these students, it is not the number of people that attend the protest that counts. It is about the message getting transmitted to the public and awareness being spread.
“It needs to be a constant confrontation in order for something to happen, and you need peaceful, mini-protests like this to do that,” said Robinson. “It’s a movement. It’s a social movement.”
Robinson and Wrobel learned of this protest through a Canisius sociology professor, Erin Robinson. She posted the information regarding the Water is Life protest on Desire2Learn, which included the location, time, metro availability, and so on. Sarah Sterzinger, fellow Griffin writer, lives with Robinson and initially heard about the event through her. However, all three students had heard of the situation at Standing Rock and desired to make their passion towards the subject of clean drinking water for all known.
“I’m just kind of upset that our government that’s meant to protect us, is turning a blind eye to the fact that people don’t even have water that is safe to drink,” said Sterzinger. “Water is a necessity for life and it is a basic human right.”
Representatives from the local Onondaga tribe were in attendance at the Water is Life protest and were able to provide the attendees with an additional perspective on the importance and sacredness of Native American land and burial grounds. When the protest reached Canalside, the Onondaga tribe invited those participating in the protest to perform chants and dance with them. This moment involved the attendees and brought them into a moment representing traditional Native American culture. According to the students, it was a special moment that allowed them to connect with the tribe and learn more about an aspect of their culture.
Despite protests like this one in Buffalo occurring across the United States, President Trump’s order was still signed and construction of the pipeline is to be reinstated. There are individuals, like Trump, who think that the pros of the pipeline ultimately outweigh the cons and do not understand why protests like this are happening. Some think that the pipeline will be beneficial for industry and infrastructure. Others state that the pipeline is not, technically, crossing the Standing Rock Reservation, and so it should be allowed. One website, entitled Dakota Access Pipeline Facts, states that the pipeline, “will be amongst the safest, most technologically-advanced pipelines in the world.” The website goes on to say that the Army Corps of Engineers did reach out to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to discuss the pipeline and discussed the process with approximately 55 Native American tribes.
Despite the supporters of the DAPL making these arguments, others still do not believe that the building of the pipeline is justified. The possibility of the contamination and poisoning of clean drinking water, according to these three Canisius students, is the only reason necessary for the pipeline’s construction to be stopped in its entirety. The threat to clean drinking water, a basic human necessity, is enough for protesters to show their support and participate in protests such as Water is Life. The consensus is that even if there are potential benefits to the DAPL, such as an increase in jobs and productivity, having clean water clearly outweighs them.
“If you think that profits are more important than people, you should look inside yourself and put yourself in their shoes,” said Sterzinger.