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DAPL Issue Not Sexy Enough for Media Coverage

Native American Rights Ignored Once Again

It’s my view that very few people care about the rights of Native Americans so it is the media’s job to embed it into our national conscience because of historical rights violations that date back to 1889 when President Benjamin Harrison made the first of a long series of authorizations that eventually removed most of Indian territory from Indian control.

The media has routinely failed to champion Native American causes because the potential violations of their rights is not a sexy enough issue for the mainstream media to care. This explains why we have witnessed a veritable media blackout about the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that protested back in August that the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) passes close enough to their land that construction should be halted until a complete hearing on their rights is fully heard. The tribe claims that the pipeline will pass through and likely destroy Native American burial sites and sacred places. Furthermore, if the pipeline ever leaked or broke, it could spill into the Missouri River, the only source of water for Standing Rock tribe.

The rights of Native Americans are no less important than those of other groups that struggle with the government over land-use issues. It’s the media’s job to shine light on issues such as the DAPL that are not widely known and to encourage an honest exchange of ideas. The mainstream media has largely ignored the issue, which explains why DAPL didn’t make it on the radar of the presidential candidates as did the Keystone Pipeline.

Another mainstream media darling was the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge led by the brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy. The Bundy brothers led the cause to turn more federal land over to local control for increased grazing, logging and mining. It’s a classic libertarian versus federal government intrusion case that the media loves to cover.

I’m an ethics guy so the rights of Native Americans are of great concern to me. I see the media blackout and wonder: Are journalists living up to the ethical principles embodied in the standards of the Society of Professional Journalists to “give voice to the voiceless”? If the media doesn’t speak up for the rights of the Standing Rock tribe now who will?

The U.S. government, as usual, has taken for granted the deep-seated beliefs of Native Americans and has ignored their rights for an open and transparent dialogue on DAPL. Instead, we get statements that Native Americans have had ample time to express their views on the matter and construction will move ahead. The courts have backed the government ostensibly because the tribe has not made a convincing case that sufficient damage to their interests will occur if the DAPL is built. I wonder where is the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on these issues? Why hasn’t the BIA identified the issue as one affecting the quality of life of Native tribes?

DAPL protesters were met with new resistance last week when the Governor of North Dakota, Jack Dalrymple, ordered an emergency evacuation for DAPL protesters at the main camp due to “harsh winter conditions.” Officials hope weather conditions can do what other steps failed to do – remove the protesters. However, members of Standing Rock said they are fully equipped to stay and carry on with their water protection.

Is it right to ignore the claims of Standing Rock because it didn’t adequately participate or dragged its foot during the Army Corps of Engineers consultation process as the government claims? Did the tribe fail to take advantage of its legal rights in this matter? The answer from an ethical perspective is even though the government may have the right to press ahead with DAPL, that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Right action is judged based on a fair consideration of the interests of affected parties and not some arbitrary timeline to submit complaints.

The fact is there hasn’t been enough time for the government to adequately consider the harms and benefits of building the DAPL. This is a complex matter. It’s one thing to say the pipeline will bring needed jobs to an area and increase crude production. It’s another to say landowner rights have been adequately protected; questions from the community have been adequately addressed; concerns of stakeholders about possible spills and harm to water resources have been carefully evaluated; and the legitimate rights of Native Americans have been given a fair hearing.

What’s the rush? Why does the government have to go full steam ahead when there are so many unanswered questions? It’s about time the media pick up the mantle of the Standing Rock tribe and give clarity to the opposing points of view to help the public understand the complex issues at stake.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 1, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: www.workplaceethicsadvice.com.