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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Technology versus Mysticism

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP or DAPL) is in the news because of a protest by Lakota (Dakota and Nakota) tribes being joined by quite a few other first nation groups concerned over water rights and "sacred" sites.  The actual path of the pipeline is not on tribal land according to most recent determination of what those lands are, but because the borders have moved over the years, there is some dispute over what those lands should be as well.

Since the tribal lands are downstream of the pipeline path, the Standing Rock Sioux (sic) have a right to be concerned, but they have a mystical approach to potential risk versus a technical approach of risk determined by the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and industry professionals.  A classic battle of science and pseudo-science. 

While pipelines are not fool proof, they are considered much safer than over land transportation via rail or road.  Older pipelines already in the general area have had a break or two requiring expensive clean up in pristine places like the Yellowstone River but with a 400% or more increase in rail transportation of oil, the number of spills, damage and deaths associated with rail have increased greatly.  Both rail and pipeline companies have done quite a bit of work to improve safety, but pipelines still have an edge in safety and cost.  However, statistics, science and economics are hard sells compared to the mystical traditions of the "noble" savage. 

The (sic) by Sioux is because it is an Anglo nickname for the group that roughly means snake or enemy.  The French traders back in the day were allied with other tribes and the Dakota in the Minnesota and Iowa territories tended to have a blood feud on occasion with their neighbors.  Young male members of tribes needed to prove themselves and capture potential brides to gain status.  Since fur and hide trading could allow them to get better weapons and conveniences for their households, the ideological notion that native Americans only took what they needed and were admirable stewards of the land was a bit of a myth created by big city Anglos to sell papers and treaties. 

Blood law and survival of the fittest is the default laws of any land and the belief that the dead might return to avenge wrongs pretty common.  Dakota, as well as other groups, were known to dismember and mutilate their victims so their ghosts would be less of a threat.  The Dakota War of 1862 started in Minnesota when a group of 4 or 5 young warriors attacked a homestead and killed 5 or 6 settlers, mutilated the bodies and burned everything they didn't find of value.  The actual numbers vary a little depending on source.  The settlers were on land that the Dakota Tribe had sold to the US government for $5 million years earlier and due to typical Federal government efficiency during the start of the Civil War, the tribe's $80,000 in gold annuity had not arrived on time.  The young warriors were just doing what their traditions allowed and the situation escalated into a war where the tribe attacked and killed about 600 settlers in a village they thought was an easier target than a small fort that had actual Anglo warriors to tackle. 

While the Dakota were attacking the New Ulm township, their barrels of gold had arrived at Fort Ridgely where is was buried for safety and local settlers joined the handful of military in the fort which had 5 or 6 serviceable field pieces including Howitzers.  Once the Dakota warriors finally decided to agree with Chief Little Crow and attack the fort, the timing was lost and the Howitzers took their toll.  Had the tribe listened to their "chief", they most likely would have collected their $80,000 in gold, had a short court case involving 4 or 5 young warriors that would have been hanged and lived happily ever after until the next dust up.

Instead, the citizens of the Minnesota territory with the help of the US Army managed to raise a few thousand troops and despite a lack of military skill, managed to drive the Dakota Tribe out of Minnesota.  Since tales of the mutilated bodies of the settler men, women and children were wide spread, the militia retaliated in kind creating what one would call a less than Christian end to the story.  Nearly half of the estimated 6,500 Dakota were killed or captured.

Over 300 Dakota combatants captured were sentenced to death and while President Lincoln pardoned the majority, 38 warriors where hanged in the largest mass execution in US history.   This was the start of 30 year war with the Sioux Nation that ended at Wounded Knee where native men, women and children were killed in the same manner that New Ulm men, women and children were killed at the start of the war. The bones of Chief Little Crow who was killed a year after the 1862 war were on display at the Minnesota State Capital along with his scalp until 1971 when they were finally buried.

 Prior to the 911 attacks, the Dakota Tribe of Minnesota held the record for the largest mass slaughter of Americans.  The Sioux have a rich heritage as warriors but not a rich heritage of diplomacy.  

Here is a native American perspective of the Dakota WarAnother perspective. 

It will be interesting to see how our current scientifically enlightened leaders deal with the Dakota Access Pipeline situation and revisionist Native American history.

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