The Issue: Native American Water Rights

Social workers are dedicated to advocacy and action in service to marginalized and oppressed groups, which can include the Native Americans and Native American Water Rights.

Native Americans, or First Nations peoples, a diverse array of tribes, cultures, and traditions, have been among the most oppressed and injured groups in American history. Many tribes are uniting now against an oil development project that they claim is at best dismissive of their sacred lands and at worst a potential environmental crisis that could jeopardize their water supply.

One of the largest Native American protests in American history is taking place right now. Several Native American tribes, lead by the Standing Rock Sioux, are peacefully protesting and obstructing the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a multi-billion-dollar oil pipeline spanning 4 states. 

Native American protesters and advocacy groups claim that the pipeline, which would run along reservation borderlands in North and South Dakota, would disturb or destroy sacred native burial sites and potentially contaminate water quality in native communities.

On Sept. 3rd in Cannonball, North Dakota, violence flared after tribal protesters allege that sacred burial sites were being bulldozed. 

Video has emerged of private security forces grappling, pepper spraying and setting trained dogs on the protesters, which seems to have incited greater fervor and numbers to the tribal cause and at least in one instance led to the temporary withdrawal of said security teams.

Get Informed About Native American Water Rights

On August 25th 2016, over 30 organizations, Native American tribal groups, and environmental advocacy groups drafted a letter to President Obama asking him to halt construction and repeal the Army Corps of Engineers’ permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline Project.

“Not only would the Dakota Access Pipeline threaten sacred sites and culturally important landscapes, it would also cross under the Missouri River just upstream of the Tribe’s drinking water supply. If there were to be a spill – which history has taught us is not a question of “if” but “when” – it would constitute an existential threat to the Tribe’s culture and way of life. The pipeline poses significant threats to the environment, public health, and tribal and human rights.”

Tribal groups have formed an advocacy coalition called Rezpect Our Water, which highlights their perspective and appeal for action. has posted an article “5 Fast facts You Need To Know” about the DAPL protests, their origin, and assertions from the developers and tribal groups, including a review of some of the violence.

Take Action about Native American Water Rights:

  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose lands are the most impacted by DAPL has posted a Call for Support and a Donation Fund toward their legal advocacy and civil rights efforts.

The authors of this petition assert:

Sign Up For Online Petition to Impact Your Social Worker Career“The potential of oil leaks would contaminate the only source of water for the reservation. While Dakota Access claims oil leaks are unlikely, an oil leak from a separate pipeline in North Dakota was discovered (8/15/16) to have leaked over 500 barrels of oil since the leak began on July 19, 2016. A leak like this from the Dakota Access pipeline would leave the Standing Rock Sioux without any clean water.”

The authors of this petition assert:

“We are a group of young people from the Oceti Sakowin area calling on the Army Corps

of Engineers to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). We believe that the DAPL has great potential to leak into the Missouri River and cause harm to the great people of this nation whose water and livelihood depends on the river.”

The authors of this petition assert:

“The Army Corps of Engineers granted the Dakota Access pipeline’s permits using a controversial fast-tracking process called ‘Nationwide Permit 12’…and applied this fast-track process in conflict with numerous federal laws and agreements, including the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, as well as federal trust responsibilities guaranteed in the 1851 and 1868 United States treaties with the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes.”

Native American Water Rights and Access Pipeline: Advocacy in Action
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Native American Water Rights and Access Pipeline: Advocacy in Action
In this article, we'll be covering Native American Water Rights and how social workers can get involved. Social workers are dedicated to advocacy and action in service to marginalized and oppressed groups.
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