USD Just Read! 2016-2017 Essay Contest 3rd Place Winner

Colonization Repeated by Ashley Brown

     Colonization: a term we all have come to know as the intrusion of taking land and resources and using it for profit; simply, stealing the substance of one’s home for capital gain. Colonization was the reoccurring story of the 18th and 19th centuries. Colonization was something we studied in our high school American history books. These historical events were treated as simply, historical. And yet, both colonialism and imperialism continue today. Whoever said that history teaches us lessons of what not to do in the future forgot to mention that corruption and money could get in the way of social and political progress. In Karen Piper’s The Price of Thirst, Piper explains the topic of water through her own eyes as she travels across the globe to discover the cause for why the world is thirsty, or better said, why the world is too poor to quench their thirst.

     Unfortunately, an essential resource for humanity is treated as a commodity, further making the already polluted and quickly diminishing resource nearly impossible to come by if you don’t have the means to afford it. The political involvement of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank seem to put on a good façade that they exist to help the people, even going as far to agree that water is a “human right” for all. When analyzed further, the motifs of these organizations don’t focus on “Working for a world free of poverty” as the World Bank’s mission says on their website (World Bank). Rather, self-interest and private corporations influence these organizations more than one would think while considering that these organizations are supposedly made for the improvement of human lives across the globe. These organizations have funded expensive water projects in various countries, promising the improvement of water quality and delivery without following through with their agreements. Private, for-profit corporations gain profit from public money without helping the humans who are desperate for water. The privatization of water (and many other resources) has long-term consequences that threaten numerous human lives. The interests of big corporations for capital seem to outweigh these human lives; further demonstrating the influence capitalism and neoliberalism has on the world today. Current events involving the Dakota Access Pipeline exemplify exactly what Karen Piper reveals in her book: privatization leads to monopoly control of resources, environmental catastrophe, violations of human rights, and more importantly, the frantic search for water to support human lives - especially those humans politically neglected and oppressed racially in history.

     The Sioux Native American Tribe is familiar with having their land acquired by the U.S. government. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Pick-Sloan Plan relocated and destroyed the livelihood of thousands of Native Americans. This plan was enforced in order to build dams along the Missouri River in North and South Dakota. The dams flooded the land, taking the tribe’s useful timber, natural resources, and homes along with it. The river was seen as an economic venture that provided hydroelectric energy, irrigation, and pathways for barges (Lee 2). The federal government took advantage of the Native Americans through an action which most would claim was an illegal seizure and violated the treaty between natives and the government. The cycle of injustice lives on in these communities where poverty thrives and promised support from the government is hardly recognized. Fast-forward to the recent months concerning a plan for the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline to be constructed underneath the precious water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Lake Oahe. In opposition, the members of the tribe argue the pipeline would interfere with ancestral, sacred burial sites. In addition, there is always a threat of the pipeline breaking and polluting their source of drinking water. Facts show that pollution from broken pipes is a common problem that is already detrimental to water sources across the country. The Sioux tribe has voiced their opposition since 2014 when the plan was first proposed but the state and federal government has ignored them. Political oppression and silence is what Karen Piper references in The Price of Thirst. Historically and presently seen in countries such as Bolivia, Chile, South Africa, Egypt, only to name a few, the opposition of the economically weak is no match for the private corporations that invade and threaten the land of so many. In The Price of Thirst, Tony Ehrenreich, a union leader in South Africa told Karen Piper, “Unless you change the fundamentally social and economic relations, I think the vote means nothing… We have a vote, but we can’t eat that.” (Piper 123). Similar to the situation of Imizamo Yethu, an informal settlement in Capetown, the Sioux tribe ultimately is overridden in having say in what goes on in their land because they have been so neglected by the United States government. The United States democracy touts fair voice, but is that only up until money becomes influential enough to prevent the voice of opposition from succeeding?

     Energy Transfer Partners L.P. owns Dakota Access along with other partners such as Phillips 66, Enbridge, and Marathon Petroleum. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a U.S. Federal Department of Defense, granted the approval of the pipeline. Interestingly enough, the mission of the USACE is to “Deliver vital public and military engineering services; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our Nation's security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters” (About 1). The mission of this public entity contradicts their actions in supporting the construction of a hazardous, cultural damaging project that has the primary aim to profit off of oil. The U.S. government ignores the threat to the environment and to the health of the people that righteously occupy the land where the private corporation wants to construct the pipeline. In December of 2016, the Obama administration succeeded in halting the DAPL in order to further assess the environmental impacts and to explore alternative routs. This was a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Constant protest and peaceful opposition to the construction on paid off; their voices were heard… temporarily. Unfortunately, as the Obama Administration’s term ended and the Trump Administration transitioned into Washington, the Sioux would suffer a loss. President Donald Trump demonstrated his encouragement of privatization over the well being of his citizens when he promptly commanded the continuation and completion of the DAPL along with continuing the process to start the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. President Trump owned shares in the Energy Transfer Partners group before recently selling it to avoid a conflict of interest with his position in office. However, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Chief Executive of Energy Transfer Partners Kelcy Warren made $1.53 in campaign contributions to super PACs and $252,300 to individual campaigns and the GOP (Mufson 1). President Trump’s support from the Energy Transfer Partners raises the theme Karen Piper alludes to in her book: the privatization of public resources negatively affects millions of the economically powerless citizens while positively helping the wealthy, powerful corporations.

     Ultimately, the citizens of the United States, and the citizens of countries all over the world suffer from the actions of the big corporations manipulating public land and money for their own capital. The short-term profit gained from resources has and will continue to damage our environment and the health of humans. In summary, water is life. Arjun Appardurai, a renowned anthropologist from India, concludes the issue: “Today the insecurities of states and the uncertainties of civilians and persons have become increasing intertwined” (Piper 217). Government has placed capital gain above the interest of the people. Human lives are being undermined by money. Should the most valuable thing to ensure life be treated as a commodity? What once was free is now being used for profit, killing millions of humans through contamination or simply because of high cost.

     All and all, the underlying issues brought forward by Karen Piper and the current Dakota Access Pipeline project are complex. In the Price of Thirst, many communities demonstrate resistance just as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The advancement of technology informs us of what is happening around the world. In my opinion, true change comes from education. I believe before we can join in solidarity, we need to be aware of the problems surrounding us. We need to pass on the facts of what is happening so people can decide for themselves what is unjust. We cannot stand for powerful corporations to manipulate the people. They might be powerful but the their manipulation and unethical actions will not stand without being noticed for long. As Karen Piper stated, “The true price of thirst is death, and death is now stalking many around the world” (Piper 217). This is a global issue that inevitably has the power to destroy the environment and lives. Social action is needed in order to take back the priceless water from corporations who treat it as a commodity and transfer it back into the hands of humans who treat it as a necessity.

Works Cited

"About Us." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. U.S. Federal Government, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Lee, Trymaine. "No Man's Land: The Last Tribes of the Plains." MSNBC. NBC Universal News Group, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

Mufson, Steven. "Trump Dumped His Stock in the Dakota Access Pipeline Owner over the Summer." The Washington Post. WP Company, 16 Nov. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Piper, Karen. The Price of Thirst. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2014. Print. "The World Bank." About the World Bank. The World Bank Group, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.