Since April 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Various Native American tribes and people have also been showing their support of the protest by sending supplies or traveling to protest themselves. UNC’s own Carolina Indian Circle created a public service announcement about the pipeline in September.
The protest has also received support and attention from influential allies: celebrities.
Members of the cast of Justice League created a video endorsing Rezpect Our Water, an initiative founded by young members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Leonardo DiCaprio and Pharell Williams have posted on social media about it. Mark Ruffalo tweeted calling out President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to get involved.
Actors Riley Keough and Susan Sarandon went to Washington, DC to protest with tribe members. Shailene Woodley has made multiple posts on social media protesting the pipeline, posted videos of her at protests in North Dakota, and recently being arrested for protesting.
What does it mean that these celebrities are getting involved? Attention.
Celebrities have thousands, even millions, of followers on multiple social media networks. They can reach an incredibly large amount of people in minutes. This type of access to publicity is just what the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe need.
It is important that celebrities are not only using their platform, but encouraging other leaders and politicians to use theirs as well. They are encouraging their fans to learn more about the pipeline and get involved with protests.
In 2014, Native Americans made up two percent of the population. They are a group that is forced to be treated as second class citizens on land that belongs to them and their ancestors.
Plans for the pipeline were made without consulting the Native Americans who lived there. When concerns were made about sacred spaces of land being destroyed, they fell on deaf ears and were ignored.
Centuries ago, land was taken from Native Americans and the justification given was that it would benefit others. Traditions and culture were not seen as valuable as the profit that could be made by exploiting it. Now, in 2016, we are dangerously close to making the same mistake.