Letter to the Editor | Dakota Access Pipeline

Dear People of North Dakota,

Whether publicly acknowledged or not, the people of North Dakota strongly identify with Native Americans and their culture. Although 94 percent of the state’s population identified as “white” in the last census, native imagery and cultural references abound across the state.

Notice the highway signs depicting a native chief in headdress and the license plates featuring a wide-open country with a roaming bison. The state university athletic teams had team names like “Fighting Sioux” and the “Bison,” until the NCAA recently forced UND to change its name and logo to the “Fighting Hawks.” People identified so strongly with the “Fighting Sioux,” they fought the NCAA to keep it. In Jamestown, the world’s largest bison statue, “Dakota Thunder,” is a popular tourist attraction. The use of native imagery and culture is a proud part of North Dakota identity, including the word “Dakota” itself having roots in the native word for “friend” and “ally.”

The people of North Dakota also identify as good people who are proud of their charity work and service to their communities. People are known for looking out for each other and welcome newcomers with warm, open arms. Most North Dakota residents identify as spiritual people who attend church regularly and share a strong sense of spirituality similar to many Native Americans.

This reputation for generosity, hospitality and community is tarnished by the Morton County Sheriffs Department and North Dakota National Guard’s acts of violence against people opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

As the world watches these events unfold, people want to know how the good people of North Dakota could largely sit in silence when their native brothers and sisters are asking for help to protect the water for all people. Why has this get-rich-quick oil scheme clouded the minds and values of North Dakota people, to the point where they passively support violence and the intimidation of their fellow humans?

A historical unification of Native American nations is taking place in North Dakota along the banks of the Cannonball River. The people of North Dakota and the world are invited to peacefully go there and see the significance of water to native people first-hand. Try the Lakota values of compassion, humility, generosity, honesty and respect, and extend them to all people. Notice how the Native Americans will extend these values to you.

This is an opportunity for North Dakota people to deepen their identity with and understanding of native culture and build mutual respect with native people.

Joe O’Connor

Washington, D.C.

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