While the rest of us were celebrating corpulence in the name of a supposed historic friendship between Native Americans and one of the earliest manifestations of a civilization which would inevitably wipe them out, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North and South Dakota, along with their allies, were protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed pipeline, which draws oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota, has been criticized by the Standing Rock tribe for violating sacred sites and threatening the health of the Missouri River, their primary water supply. On November 20th, 2016, the protests turned violent when police attacked protesters, known as “water protectors,” as they tried to clear a bridge blocked by pick-up trucks.
During the November 20th violence, a woman named Sophia Wilansky was severely injured and stands at risk of losing her arm. The story of Wilansky’s injury, while tragic, reveals way the national media has covered the protests. Wilansky’s injury has drawn arguably more coverage than the entirety of the anti-pipeline movement, which has been happening since April of 2016. Why such disparity in coverage? One could argue that the gravity of what happened to Wilansky is worthy of coverage, but other violence against protestors has not received the same level of attention. In September of this year, DAPL security workers unleashed dogs on a group of water-protectors. The same night Wilansky was injured, The Young Turks reported a number of other lurid and grave injuries that were largely ignored or under-reported in other outlets. The violence perpetrated by the police and private security forces that threatened the life of Wilansky has been widespread for some time. However, the media only took notice once a white, twenty-one year old woman was hurt in the protests.
Native Americans have been a marginalized group since the first colonists landed on the continent. When the original settlers landed, it became immediately clear that the future of Native Americans would be in jeopardy. Shortly after the first arrivals of Europeans to the continent, a multi-century campaign of slaughter and disenfranchisement began. Thus it should come as no surprise that the efforts of Native American tribes to protect their ever-eroding lands and culture draw minimal interest from the majority of media outlets. Large televised news corporations such as CNN, ABC, and NBC have largely chosen to limit their coverage to major events, notably those involving violence, despite the fact that violent episodes have been a seemingly limited part of a long-running protest movement.
Mainstream television media has also ignored the abuse of protesters in custody. These episodes of abuse have brought the NoDAPL movement to the attention of human rights groups like Amnesty International, which decided in late October that it would begin to monitor the protests. Water-protectors have reported numerous incidents of strip-searching and have complained that holding cells set-up by security forces are woefully inadequate, comparing them to “dog kennels.” Fault in Our Stars actress Shailene Woodley related her experience of being stripped by police to Democracy Now!, which also reported that the same search techniques had been used on Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chair Dave Archambault II. In mid-November, the United Nations condemned the actions of security forces against the water protectors.
Clearly, the pipeline conflict remains newsworthy. Yet, little has been said mainstream media in the United States. Popular national organizations have ignored accusations of police brutality and human rights violations, instead reporting on only the limited violent protests that have occurred in what has been a seven-month long movement. As a result, the images of the NoDAPL movement that have been diffused widely across the nation show protesters battling with police. Many do not accept violent protest as a productive form of activism, and by disseminating the idea that violence represents a popular and largely peaceful movement with a noble mission, the majority of news media undermines the value and purpose of the water-protectors’ fight. The way network news has responded to the Standing Rock protests represents another example of their lack of journalistic ability and integrity, and ultimately, their unwillingness to respect the reality and potency of revolutionary movements in the United States.
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