A Victory at Standing Rock

In Current Events, Maps101 by

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux celebrated upon learning that an oil pipeline would not be built through their ancestral lands in North Dakota.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux celebrated upon learning that an oil pipeline would not be built through their ancestral lands in North Dakota.

Mni wiconi are words from the Native American Lakota language meaning water is life. They have been the rallying cry of protesters who have been assembled since August at the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota. The protesters stood with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe members who were unhappy that an oil pipeline would be built so close to their reservation. On December 4, protesters shouted “Mni wiconi” in celebration when they learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not permit the pipeline to travel through their ancestral lands.

The Dakota Access Pipeline

Oil company Dakota Access is building the pipeline in order make it faster and cheaper to move oil. Once complete, it will run 1,170 miles from Stanley, North Dakota, generally southeast across the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa to Patoka, IllinoisDakota Access argues that the pipeline is good because it will bring more money to the U.S. economy and create new jobs.

The Standing Rock Sioux, however, say that the pipeline is a threat because because it would cross Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, which supplies their drinking water. They worry that if the pipeline leaks, the water could become unfit to drink. The tribe also opposes the pipeline because it would pass through lands it considers sacred.

After its decision to not go through the Sioux lands, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must now determine a different route to complete the pipeline. Dakota Access planned to have the pipeline finished by January 1, 2017. Now it is concerned that this decision could prevent its completion for months or years.

Strong Feelings, Strong Words

Protesters are jubilant. They see the U.S. government’s decision as a victory.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said that he was glad that President Obama “took the time and effort to genuinely consider the broad spectrum of tribal concerns.” Lilian Molina, a spokesperson for the environmental action group Greenpeace, called the protestors “water protectors.” She praised the government for “having the courage to stand up and admit that the permitting process was flawed.”

Others, however, believe the water protectors are law breakers. In October, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said the protestors were trespassing on private land and were using violence. “This protest is not peaceful or lawful,” he insisted.

After this decision, some say U.S. President Barrack Obama acted unfairly.

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that the president is ignoring the country’s energy needs. North Dakota Congressional member Kevin Cramer thinks that the president is against business and is breaking the law. “I hoped even a lawless president wouldn’t continue to ignore the rule of law,” he said.

When people use such strong language, it can be difficult to decide whether what they’re saying is true or not. Are the protesters water protectors, or are they law breakers? Does the government not care about laws? Do oil companies want to harm a community’s water supply?

People can study rhetoric to help them make decisions about what others say. Rhetoric looks at how people use language to persuade others.

A protestor chains himself to a piece of construction equipment during the Standing Rock Protests in August 2016.

A protestor chains himself to a piece of construction equipment during the Standing Rock Protests in August 2016.

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is a key figure in the development of rhetoric. Although written over 2,000 years ago, people still read his book Rhetoric to learn how to persuade others.

Aristotle wrote that unlike many things people learn, rhetoric can be applied to any subject. “Every other art can instruct or persuade about its own particular subject matter,” he said. “Medicine about what is healthy and unhealthy, geometry about the properties of magnitudes, arithmetic about numbers. But rhetoric we look upon as the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us.”

Aristotle taught that people can persuade others if they appear trustworthy and what they say causes strong emotions in listeners and uses logical thinking. These ideas are known by the Greek words ethos, pathos, and logos.

Ethos is a speaker’s ability to persuade others based on his or her ability to appear intelligent and trustworthy. Pathos, however, is the ability of a speaker to persuade people by arousing emotions in them. Finally, logos is the use of logical thinking in constructing an argument. When a speaker used ethos, pathos, and logos, Aristotle taught, he or she was more likely to get other people to believe his or her ideas.

Additional Resources

Read more about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s decision at The Atlantic and USA Today.

See a map of the projected pipeline at the New York Times.

Learn about the role rhetoric has played in U.S. history at Voice of America.

Images and Sources

Dakota Access Pipeline Photo: Tony Webster
Dakota Access Pipeline Photo License: Creative Commons 4.0

Pipeline Protest Photo: Desiree Kane
Pipeline Protest Photo License: Creative Commons 3.0