A couple weeks ago I woke up to find that my Facebook newsfeed was filled with people checking-in online to the Standing Rock Nation in North Dakota with posts of solidarity for the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. What was going on? Had many of my friends traveled to North Dakota overnight? No, this was not the case. Instead they were part of a geographically-diffused response to a geographically concentrated movement. Despite personal or financial obligations that prohibited them from showing up in person, through the magic of the internet, they were literally there in spirit. As a geography major, this movement fascinated me because both the problem and the response are deeply rooted in geography.
What is the Dakota Access Pipeline protest all about?
The trending #NoDAPL refers to the ongoing Native American occupation of the site of a proposed oil pipeline near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Protests began in April and have since grown to thousands of people aimed at stopping the construction of the pipeline. The initial dispute for protestors is the route of the pipeline. While the pipeline does not cross reservation land, if the route continues as planned, the Sioux say it would cross sacred burial sites and put their water supply at risk . Energy Transfer, the company that owns the pipeline project, says that all safety precautions are in place to ensure the risk of a spill is low. However, the project route was changed because of concerns about the risk to water supplies in Bismarck, ND. The courts, the US federal government and local and state police have gotten involved as thousands of indigenous people from across the United States and Canada came to the camp in Standing Rock to support the local Sioux people. The broader discussions #NoDAPL invokes about climate change, environmental protection and indigenous rights has also spoken to many around the world who want to help and media outlets from around the world have started covering the protest. A good overview of the timeline and main issues can be found here.
Thus, the problem is spatially concentrated but the reaction is geographically diffused. Like other issues of this nature, it begs the question, how can we create meaningful impact in a faraway place? Often times we turn to social media.
Why Facebook check-ins?
Recent media coverage on the protest has focused on allegations of police misconduct targeting protestors in the camp. Hundreds have been arrested and two officers have reportedly quit the police force due to their discomfort with the actions they were being told to take. Early on Monday Oct.31 the following call from an unknown source was sent out via social media:
Alongside my friends The Guardian reported that over 1 million people checked in. Police stated that they are not using social media to track protestors, but the check-ins brought renewed media attention to the situation. The check-ins are just one example of how people are trying to get involved despite the geographic distance.
How do you overcome the geography and get involved?
- Think Global, Act Local
Greenpeace Norway and SumOfUs.org collected 120,000 signatures on a petition urging Norweigan financial institutions to pull their funding for the project. DNB, the largest bank in Norway has since sold its assets in the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- Spread the Word
It may not feel like a conversation on social media or in-person can impact life on the ground, but social media attention to the protest has bought the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline into the mainstream media and broader discussions about climate change and indigenous rights into international conversation. Even if you don’t feel you have the capacity to take action, maybe you will inspire someone who can to get informed and get involved.
- Show Solidarity
Groups around the world are taking action to let protestors know that they stand with them and believe in what they are fighting for. To boost camp morale, the Maori, an indigenous group in New Zealand performed a haka (traditional dance and prayer) to show support for Standing Rock.
Standing Rock demonstrates that in an age of the internet, even the most spatially concentrated of issues are no match for a global desire to do good. So never underestimate the impact of a small gesture and don’t let geography stop you from taking action on the issues that matter to you!
Kylie Pettifer recently graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in Geography and Business. With a research background in social entrepreneurship and sustainable development, she is interested in the tools and strategies people and organisations around the world are using to engage with social, environmental and economic issues and how positive social innovations can be adopted across cultural contexts to foster positive community growth and change.
Kylie has worked in project coordination and administration with NGO’s at home and abroad on topics such as refugee resettlement, women’s empowerment, disaster risk reduction, sexualised violence and youth leadership and hopes to do some good throughout her career.