Standing Rock: The Underlying Conflict

by Allison on November 25, 2016 - 8:16pm

As discussed in the article Standing Rock Pipeline Protesters Repelled by Force at Bridge Crossing, there is currently a significant amount of conflict in the region of North Dakota mainly between the government whose actions are represented by law enforcement and an indigenous community. This stems from the native reserve of the Standing Rock Sioux protesting a pipeline that is being built near their reserve as there is fear of contamination of their water supply. Specifically in this incident, protestors were blocking access to a bridge on a state highway and law enforcement chose to use a water cannon and tear gas to clear the protestors. There are also report from police of protestors throwing rocks and using a slingshot to fire rocks and burning logs at law enforcement. The decision around the creation and management of this pipeline is clearly controversial.

This article and overall situation provides a really interesting window to understanding how we view the government and the effects of its actions.  Often the government or the state is understood as they only entity that can use force in a legitimate way (Weber, 1974). Through the use of this force, it can actually create the state by forcing it to have the capacity to use force and maintain it by demonstrating its ability to enforce rules. Therefore, when the state uses force, it implies that this force is legitimate. This can even be shown in the article structure itself. Throughout the article, the sheriff’s department is relied upon to provide contextual facts about the situation and law enforcement is quoted before protestors in the when describing specific situations that occurred. The framework of the media enforces that the actions taken by the people of Standing Rock must be illegitimate and creates a general distrust for their actions.

The use of forceful actions by the state further marginalizes indigenous people as this creates the impression that their concerns are not important to the state. This represents the power that states have. Control over material power such as the physical ability to force people to move has also aided in the creation of a discourse community that distrusts aboriginal citizens. It is important to recognize that these actions further marginalize indigenous people from the state. When specific groups of people are treated as if there concerns are not relevant, it separates them from the entire country as they cannot connect with the organization that is supposed to represent the country.

The article makes the difference between the perspectives of the officers and protestors to be a simplistic conflict of differences in cognitive understanding. This means that they have different understanding of the situation from varying sources of data and knowledge that creates different understandings in each party. The protestors believe that their water supply could be contaminated from this pipeline while the government believes this will not occur. However, there are many deeper conflicts at play. Namely, it is important to understand the much deeper roots of behavioural conflict that could be affecting the current situation. Behavioural context are issues caused by personalities and circumstances of individuals including their historical relationship. Historically, the United States government has subjected native people to horrendous treatment even including an attempted genocide. This has caused a significant distrust in their relationship. With the existing power imbalance and the pre-existing distrust between the two parties, this protest cannot be understood as an isolated incident.


Standing Rock pipeline protesters repelled by force at bridge crossing (2016, November 21). CBC News Retrieved from:

Weber, M. (1974) Book. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago