Health professionals are adding their voices to the crescendo of expert opinions in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock. In letters to President Barack Obama, organizations of doctors and psychiatrists express concern for everything from water quality to the potential psychological effects of the militarized police response to the demonstrations.
“Due to the proposed placement of the pipeline, we have concerns about the possibility for future leakage posing harm to the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation,” wrote the American Psychological Association on behalf of its 117,500 members, as well as its Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race. “As psychologists, we are particularly troubled by the potential for adverse neurological effects of oil-contaminated water. Moreover, we are disturbed that the pipeline was considered too risky to route close to Bismarck, North Dakota, but not to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.”
Citing the longstanding marginalization and mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples in the United States, the November 14 letter referenced historical and intergenerational trauma and its link to health disparities in urging that these communities instead be empowered through meaningful consultation on such projects.
“We are also very concerned about the violence that has occurred in response to protests,” the Psychological Association letter said. “Media reports describe protesters being held in dog kennels and shot with rubber bullets, a frightening continuation of the historical mistreatment of Native Americans. We ask that you do whatever you can to urge law enforcement to show restraint as they try to diffuse the conflict.”
Healers say many of the water protectors could be at risk for PTSD from being tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, hit with concussion grenades and subject to constant surveillance from bright floodlights, among other military-style measures. They have been taking a stand since the spring against the last phase of the 1,172-mile-long, $3.8 billion pipeline, which is slated to run under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River.
Concerns about trauma and health were also expressed in a November 30 letter to Obama signed by 1,400 public health professionals affiliated with more than 300 universities and schools, service providers, health departments and other public health organizations.
“As public health researchers and practitioners, we are acutely aware that indigenous populations in the United States disproportionately endure poorer health outcomes, compared to the general population,” the public health researchers and practitioners wrote. “In transporting around half a million barrels of crude oil per day, the proposed pipeline risks the contamination and destruction of critical water sources of the Standing Rock Sioux, posing a fundamental threat to their health and wellbeing, and furthering the health disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants of this country. Moreover, the pipeline endangers the health of the public at large, by further entrenching our reliance on fossil fuels and contributing to emissions that drive anthropogenic climate change beyond a point of no return.”
They asked Obama to deny the easement under Lake Oahe, a move that has been requested by U.S. Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Jared Huffman (D-CA), who also joined 21 members of Congress in calling for Obama to de-escalate tensions. The letter writers also requested that the President go even further and declare Standing Rock a national monument.
National Nurses United has been at the camps providing medical assistance for weeks. They released this video explaining their efforts.
In their letter to Obama, the public-health professionals noted the importance of respecting “the sovereign rights of indigenous peoples, including their fundamental right to exist as such.
“The lands and territories of indigenous peoples, and the natural resources contained therein, the public health professionals’ letter said, “are inextricably tied to their physical and cultural survival. The proposed pipeline would jeopardize areas of significant cultural importance to the Standing Rock Sioux, including burial grounds and prayer sites. Respecting the tribe’s culture and sovereignty requires acknowledging that harm caused to their lands and territories simply cannot be compensated for in monetary terms.
“An acute disaster such as a leak or spill could lead to forcible displacement of the tribe from their lands, and no amount of assistance could offset such a catastrophic result,” they wrote. “In addition to protecting the Standing Rock Sioux, halting the construction of the pipeline would be an important symbolic gesture to all 567 federally recognized tribes that the federal government will no longer be complicit in their marginalization and destruction.”