Natural Resource Conflict and Protest: The Silencing of Marginalized Voices



We have been seeing a growing number of media reports lately involving protesters.  Media reporting gives us a sense of immediacy. We see protest as the issue – rather than a direct action which happens at the end of a long sequence of events.  Industry leads us to believe that protesters are simply selfish minorities who are working against the better good of the Nation. In reality, protest is a last resort.  People protest when all other means of change have been exhausted.  Protest happens when people feel they have not been heard or acknowledged.  It is difficult, uncomfortable, and even dangerous to engage in protests.  Protest is born out of crisis.

The number of protests and political actions against controversial resource extraction projects in North America is growing. With each protest, attempts to silence opposing voices increase.  Reactions to protests are becoming more militarized and violent.  Industry and government officials are ramping up efforts to hide the conflicts from public awareness. Interestingly enough, officials have taken to arresting media reporters in a thinly veiled attempt to make protests invisible to the public.  This is yet another way to silence the dissenters.

Protests occur when desperation finally takes hold and all other strategies have failed.  In cases of First Nations communities, protests are happening at the end of a timeline of events which go back hundreds of years!  Protest, or Direct Action, is almost always the result of human rights violations and failure of due process. It happens when people feel they have nothing left to lose!

I have provided a timeline of events behind the recent DAPL protests happening in North Dakota. For more information on DAPL, see my blog post:

This partial timeline illustrates the sequence of events which have led to violence and militarization. This timeline clearly shows that the Standing Rock Sioux began direct action only after other legal avenues failed. Obligations to consult with Indigenous communities were insufficient. Industry and government are trying to silence opposition, rather than finding solutions which benefit everyone.


2/17/15 The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) requests archaeological report for lands the pipeline would impact from the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO).  This is in keeping with obligations to consult as set out by the National Historic Preservation Act. THPO sends two follow up letters to the USACE, requesting a full archeological investigation. The USACE allegedly fails to respond to either letter.
9/15/15 USACE sends second letter to the THPO, asking the Tribal Chairman if they would like to consult on the pipeline project. THPO responds with concerns about negative impacts and failure of the process to address the National Historic Preservation Act.  The THPO accuses the USACE of trying to circumvent its obligations to consult, as required by law. No follow up action by the USACE appears to have occurred.
12/2015 The USACE issues an environmental statement which indicates that the THPO has informed them that “the Lake Oahu site avoided impacts to tribally significant sites” Tribal Nations, including the Osage and Iowa tribes, inform the American Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) that “We have not been consulted in an appropriate manner about the presence of traditional cultural properties, sites, or landscapes vital to our identity and spiritual well-being”. The Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Interior, and the ACHP send letters to the USACE criticizing the USACE environmental statement.
4/22/16 The USACE concludes their investigation, stating that no historic properties will be affected by the DAPL construction route. No apparent actions. No apparent actions.
7/25/16 The USACE issues a fast-track construction permit (Permit 12), which states that there will be no direct or indirect impacts to the environment or to the Standing Rock Reservation. No apparent actions. No apparent actions.
8/4/16 The Standing Rock Sioux file an injunction against the USACE, asking the court to force withdrawal of Permit 12. The Standing Rock Sioux, represented by EarthJustice, take legal action against pipeline construction. Energy Transfer Partners (a parent company of Dakota Access LLC) counter-sues the Standing Rock Sioux for blocking pipeline construction.
8/22/16 Protests at the Cannonball, ND construction site begin.


Thousands of area tribes show up in Cannonball in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, who are protesting the threat to their drinking water by the pipeline construction.

The division leader of Homeland Security, Greg Wilz, orders the removal of safe drinking water tanks and trailers from the protest site.

During a court hearing, pipeline officials declare that pipeline construction is 48% completed.

9/3/16 Despite an upcoming court hearing on Permit 12, Dakota Access construction workers bulldoze a 2 mile long path through contested burial grounds.  This particular site was discovered by the Standing Rock Sioux just days before the review. Protests continue.  This weekend was significant to Standing Rock, as it was the anniversary of the Whitestone Massacre of 1863 – more than 300 Sioux were slaughtered by the US Army. Social media videos of a private security firm hired by Dakota Access go viral.  The security firm employees pepper spray and set attack dogs on the protesters.  At least six people are bitten and 30 people pepper-sprayed.
9/6/16 US District Judge James Boasberg agrees to a temporary construction halt on the contested pipeline portion.  This comes before a court ruling to com on September 9th. Protests at the Standing Rock Camp have grown to over 100 tribal representatives.  Non-native protesters, environmental activists, and celebrities have come to the area in solidarity. No specific actions being taken at this time.
9/7/16 Jill Stein, the US Green Party Presidential candidate, is video-taped spray painting a Dakota Access bulldozer.  This video goes viral. Standing Rock protests continue. The Morton County Police Department issues an arrest warrant for Jill Stein, on two counts of criminal mischief and criminal trespassing.
9/8/16 North Dakota Governor Jack Dalyrmple calls in the National Guard for increased law enforcement Protests continue.


The Standing Rock Sioux prepare for the next day’s court hearing.

Law enforcement at the protest site is escalated as the National Guard moves in.
9/9/16 District Judge James Boasberg denies the Standing Rock Sioux’s injunction request, allowing for construction to continue. Area protests continue.

The Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior issue a joint statement acknowledging the District Court decision, but refusing to authorize continued construction in the protest area.

Energy Transfer LLC is asked by the departments to voluntarily cease construction until the project can be reviewed.

10/9/16 A federal district appeals court refuses to grant an injunction, this time dismissing the Standing Rock Sioux’s request for a permanent stay on planned construction. Area protests continue. Energy Transfer LLC continues pipeline work, despite US government departmental requests to halt construction.
10/10/16 A second joint statement by Federal government offices is given, asking Energy Transfer LLC to halt construction, and refusing to authorize construction permits. Area protests continue. Energy Transfers LLC chooses to continue construction, despite Federal government requests.
10/13/16 A letter is drafted by Senator Bernie Sanders and four other senators asking President Barack Obama to suspend construction permits and force the USACE to complete a full environmental impact statement on DAPL.

Media reports indicate that journalists and film makers are being arrested on criminal charges.

Local protests continue. North Dakota authorities produce arrest warrants for Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) and filmmaker Deia Schlosberg on felony charges.

Military and Police actions against protestors are escalated.

10/14/16 to Present: Standing Rock protestors move their camp from its previous location to a direct construction location sold to EnergyTransfer LLC by a private landowner.  This location is contested as a spiritual historical burial site for the Standing Rock Sioux. Protest, Direct Action, and Blockade efforts continue to grow.

Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) is found Not Guilty of misdemeanor charges in her reporting role at the Standing Rock protest site.  Deia Schlosberg continues her court case on felony charges, which could result in jail time up to 45 years. Jill Stein settles out of court on her charges, and pays misdemeanor fees.

Military and Police actions against protectors escalate.  Well over 200 protesters are arrested.  Some of these arrests are violent and contentious.

A Standing Rock Media Drone is destroyed by military police, with charges that the drone was being used to endanger police helicopters.

Police forces begin counter-campaigns designed to sabotage peaceful protest efforts.  Some of these efforts include questionable images released to social media that ‘show’ natives shooting arrows at police helicopters and threatening police officials.  The validity of these images remains in question currently.

Construction efforts by Energy Transfer LLC continue at an accelerated rate.

This timeline shows that protests began only after traditional legal avenues failed the Standing Rock Sioux.  The pipeline industry has taken counter-measures against the protesters which are increasingly violent and militarised.  A question must be asked here: “whose interests are actually being served?”  Can a project which is so controversial truly be in the best interest of the majority? It would seem that this pipeline construction best serves the economic interests of Dakota Access, and not the interests of thousands of Indigenous and non-native individuals.  Rather than serving the ‘greater good’, Dakota Access seems more interested in hiding the truth of this growing conflict!

Interestingly, government officials are increasingly engaging in counter-measures to eliminate protest activities, rather than taking a step back and reviewing the events which led to protest in the first place! This strategy is ultimately ineffective in resolving the issue, and will serve only to escalate the existing conflicts.

Reporters and journalists are now being arrested and charged with felonies by government officials. What makes the recent arrests of reporters unusual is that they are being charged with conspiracy, burglary and sabotage.  It is not unusual for reporters be arrested for trespassing or disorderly conduct – both misdemeanour charges.  In the cases of Deia Schlosberg and Lindsey Grayzel, they have been slapped with felony charges – which can result in years of jail time.

‘SLAPP suits’ are now being used to greater extent than ever by industries being threatened by dissenters and activists.  SLAPP is short for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation.  These suits, as discussed in Wikipedia, are “intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.”  One example of this is the recent lawsuit against Alexandra Morton by Marine Harvest, which can be read here:

The real question in these conflicts lies in why we are expending so much effort to silence voices of dissent.  Conflict and protest can often be avoided, simply by working with all involved stakeholders from the beginning of a project, and avoiding strategies which are designed to silence dissenting voices!  We must begin addressing the actual issue – not spending valuable resources and time attempting to make the conflict ‘disappear’!


Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!

Social Media and Social Justice: Is Social Media a Remedy to Making the Invisible, Visible?



Social media has become an important means to spread vital information to a broad range of people in a short period of time.  Many people feel that social media is better than mainstream media, which often reports news that is biased, censored, or controlled by political influences. It is important to understand that Social Media cannot replace mainstream media reporting.

In many ways, mainstream media has allowed us to create a world where marginalized communities remain invisible – and whose voices are not heard. This is simply because mainstream journalism makes a choice for what news is reported – based on what it believes people want to hear. We believe that Social media allows us to hear the stories which aren’t reported by mainstream media. A blog post written by Billy Shore[1] suggests that social media has helped to create a world where the poor have become more visible, and we have instant access to people’s stories across the globe.  However, Shore reminds us that:

 “Social media can’t ensure social justice. But it can affect the invisibility that is the first barrier to achieving it…Social media makes our apathy and indifference visible as well.”

The downside to social media is that we can ‘discover’ the stories of other people without ever having to leave our computer screens.  As Roger Cohen (New York Times columnist) writes,

“To bear witness means being there – and that’s not free.  No search engine gives you the smell of crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream”.[2]

What this means is that social media can give us a false understanding of reality.  We think, simply by reading a Facebook or Twitter post, that we are understand what is happening in the world.  Unfortunately, we are limited in our real understanding of what is happening.  A virtual world has now replaced what is (or is not) happening in real time. The only way to truly ‘see’ what is happening around us is to be actively involved with the people who are the most invisible in our society.  Social media can give us a false sense of reality – and in many ways, serve to lead to even less understanding of what is actually happening.



A perfect example of this is the recent DAPL protests in North Dakota, which I recently blogged about at Social media reports may be giving us a false understanding of what is REALLY going on – simply because we make choices about what to read, and what to believe.  Unless we are actively participating at the protest sites, we don’t really understand what the protesters are experiencing and feeling.  We can make a very privileged choice about what the ‘truth’ of the conflict actually is!



Another issue with social media is that it can give us a false understanding of what is really happening. This can cause long-term harm to the communities we care about.  I read a blog recently which is a perfect example:

In this blog, Mark Shuller writes about the damage done in Haiti by hurricane Matthew, and how this disaster feeds into an ongoing narrative that Haitians are helpless and poor people who will never survive without outside assistance and disaster relief.  Humanitarian aid organizations move in to help – often funded and supported by self-interested multi-national corporations. He suggests that a new story is needed – one that puts Haitians in control of their own future, growth and prosperity.

Haiti Earthquake Relief


Social media is very important today, because it allows us to access information quickly.  It also is a way for us to have knowledge about the world that traditional media may not be delivering to us.  Issues of censorship or bias can be reduced when social media is used.  It is important to remember several important things when using social media, however.

  • Social media posts do not always reflect what is really going on. We need to understand that virtual reality is not always reality – and that we can’t really understand what is happening to a community without experiencing it firsthand!
  • Social media can create stories about people and places which can cause great harm to others, and support misconceptions about the poor and marginalized as helpless or incapable.
  • Social media is not all-seeing! We tend to only see or read the things which we are most involved with, the people we connect with, or the internet searches we have done in the past. This can cause us to see only a small part of the big picture.  Social media often fails to provide equal access to information as well.  As I have suggested in a previous blog post,, white privilege and education can give someone greater access to information and virtual connections than a marginalized individual in remote locations with little or no internet access.
  • Finally, social media posts which are taken out of context or not verified to be true serve to misinform the general public. Some people may use social media to promote their own agendas of hate, misogyny, racism, or cultural bias. We are all aware of internet trolls and unpleasant posts in comment sections!  Social media has given many people an outlet to spread their own brand of hatred across the globe.  These are the most dangerous downside to social media, and all of us have a responsibility to carefully vet and research every post we share or send back into the worldwide web.

If we remember these four important downsides to social media, it can be an important tool for promoting social equality, development and justice around the world!

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!




[2] Ibid,