Thousands of Native American protesters are currently fighting against the proposed construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. They are doing more than just trying to protect their land. They are fighting for their culture—and, as the Ojibwe activist Winona LaDuke argues, their future. Advances on Indian lands have always been, and continue to be, attacks on indigenous values. Non-tribal governments and corporations with interests in tribal land have not slowed such attacks in recent years, but members of indigenous communities throughout the United States have rallied new resistance. Some, like the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota, are challenging corporate incursions on their treaty lands and water. Others are fighting something slightly more subtle: renewed calls to change the ownership structure of Native lands.
Conflicts over the use and ownership of Native lands are not new. Land has been at the center of virtually every significant interaction between Natives and non-Natives since the earliest days of European contact with the indigenous peoples of North America. By the 19th century, federal Indian land policies divided communal lands among individual tribal members in a proposed attempt to make them into farmers. The result instead was that struggling tribes were further dispossessed of their land. In recent decades, tribes, corporations, and the federal government have fought over control of Native land and resources in contentious protests and legal actions, including the Oak Flat, the San Francisco Peaks Controversy, and the Keystone XL pipeline.