Ecofeminism and the Dakota Access Pipeline

By Judy Fisher

no-daplThe Dakota Access Pipeline Project is an approved project proposed by Energy Transfer Partners to create a pipeline that would transport crude oil through North and South Dakota and Iowa. Despite the different advantages to the economy and local communities that this company would provide for the development and function of this pipeline, there has been a large amount of backlash from native communities. This is because the pipeline would break treaty boundaries, affect sacred grounds and the tribe’s main source of drinking water. This directly relates to the topic of radical feminism discussed by Vandana Shiva and Susan Hawthorne and a Gender, Justice, and Decolonization thesis proposed by Dory Nason. More specifically, according to Shiva, it relates to a subgroup of radical feminism called ecofeminism, which links the exploitation of women and of nature, and the concept of biopiracy, or the commercial use of natural resources. These concepts are integral to the analysis of this event because of its exploitation of nature for monetary and material gains.

The Energy Transfer Partners claim construction will help the economy and create local jobs for communities surrounding the pipeline. However, ecofeminist ideology, especially according to Hawthorne, supports the claim that indigenous communities are more likely to lose traditional knowledge and control over that knowledge when capitalistic agendas such as this come into play. Hence, not only could the tribe lose places of cultural, religious, and spiritual importance during the construction of the pipeline, but they could also lose their only source of drinkable water. Another promise made by the Energy Transfer Partners is that this pipeline will reduce the use of trucks and trains to transport oil which would be more cost efficient and “safe.” Safe is a vague term here, because any transport of oil creates the possibility of death, destruction, oil leakage/spills, land/water contamination, or a mixture of these things. This community would suffer and, in a sense, become poorer from this pipeline.

Native communities have lived in the areas that will be affected by the DAPL for many years, and know how to take care and protect those lands. However, according to ecofeminist theorists like Shiva, this capitalist company is likely not going to recognize Native knowledges, because they do not understand the interconnectedness of nature nor the connections between women’s lives, work, and knowledge with the creation of wealth. The native people understand the difference between exploitation and using natural resources for sustenance, while the Energy Transfer Partners wants to loot the land for profit without returning anything to the community.

Indigenous women have always fought on the front lines, defending tribal rights and protecting their families during conflict, and the DAPL protest is no different. The love that Indigenous women have for their families inspires other Indigenous people to resist, protest, teach, and hold allies accountable, according to Nason. This power that Indigenous women have is vital to the progression of Native movements like the DAPL protest, but it also catalyzes the oppression that these women face. The power and confidence wielded by Native women makes them the target of epidemic levels of violence, sexual assault, imprisonment, and cultural and political disempowerment, as Nason also points out. The parallel between man’s destruction of nature and exploitation of specifically Indigenous women is evident here. There is a clear relationship between the ways that companies want to exploit the earth for monetary gain and simultaneously disenfranchise Indigenous women for getting in the way.

According to the ideas proposed by Shiva, Hawthorne, and Nason, the construction of this pipeline would only be beneficial to the capitalistic organization and not to the Indigenous people. This company would gain a profit from marginalizing specifically Indigenous women and destroying their homes. Opposition to this pipeline would in turn be opposition to man’s exploitation of women and nature.

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