Indigenous’ voices ensure no one will be left behind

Early this month the world saw a big win in asserting people’s rights and the protection of the environment in the face of private interests in what was the decision to reroute an oil pipeline that is to be built in the state of North Dakota in the United States. The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (known as DAPL) was intended to pass under the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation’s main water source as well as through territory sacred to the tribe. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been calling for a halt in the construction of the pipeline since earlier this year, often facing militarized law enforcers and excessive force.
The protesters, who have been referred to as water protectors, consisted in a large variety of individuals in addition to the members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, including veterans, celebrities, environmental activists, and members from other tribes from all over the U.S. and Canada, in what became the largest gathering of native peoples in the U.S. in over 100 years. Young Native Americans were at the forefront of the protests, on the ground and also through social media, gaining attention and bringing many supporters to their cause. The patience, persistence and organization paid off when on December 4th the Obama Administration finally blocked the construction of the segment of the pipeline that would pass half a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
What does the Standing Rock’s win have to do with sustainable development or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs is based on the major principles of universality and inclusion, meaning that the SDGs are meant for everyone, developed and developing countries alike, and that they will leave no one behind. It isn’t simply an agenda for countries and the UN to work to achieve, but also for civil society to take in their own hands, especially when they are faced with forces that may put their rights and livelihoods in jeopardy. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s success is not only a win for native groups in the U.S., but for excluded populations all over the world, demonstrating the power of civil society and collective action. Standing Rock’s members made sure that they weren’t going to be left behind.
Sustainable development for all will not be achieved if the voices of indigenous and marginalized people continue to be ignored. Around the world these groups are still fighting for the protection of their lands and basic rights. The “No DAPL” protests show that when they come together, these voices are amplified. Regardless of what may happen with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under a new U.S. administration, what was accomplished highlights that civil society organization, persistence and action can generate big results in ensuring that no one is left behind.


Native American dancers perform during a peaceful demonstration near the Dakota Access pipeline construction site. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters

Native American dancers perform during a peaceful demonstration near the Dakota Access pipeline construction site. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters

Upper Photo credit: David Zalubowski/AP Photo

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