For all its ubiquity in American identity, the concept of American exceptionalism is one built on the historical oppression of people of color. From the atrocities committed against Native Americans in the New World to the police shootings that disproportionately affect African Americans today, the United States has an undeniable track record of racism and violence that it is still working to correct. But among the many injustices that ethnic minorities face, perhaps the community whose suffering is least acknowledged is the Native Americans.
The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is one example of the systemic oppression of Native Americans. Stretching 1,172 miles across four states, the pipeline is projected to transport about 570,000 barrels of oil each day. But its path courses through the Standing Rock reservation, where tribe members argue that it could contaminate local water and desecrate their holy sites. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation, who was not included in the planning of DAPL's path, has adamantly opposed its construction since it was proposed.
Protests against the DAPL have gone on for months now, but they took took on heightened urgency this past week as police arrested hundreds of demonstrators amid violent clashes. On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders, a longtime critic of the pipeline, fired off a tweetstorm reiterating his opposition to its construction while vehemently defending Native American rights.
It's not the first time Sanders voiced his opposition to the pipeline on social media. Days before, Sanders took to Twitter to call on President Obama to "stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline."
Obama later announced that the Army Corps of Engineers is looking at alternate routes for the pipeline.
During the Democratic primary, Sanders distinguished himself as the only candidate that made Native American rights a priority in his platform. Besides supporting their rights to sovereignty and healthcare, Sanders also came out in support of "the need to immediately apologize for the damage our historical discrimination and racism has caused Native Americans, and that stereotypes and slurs against them should be actively denounced," according to his campaign website.
If we were talking about lasting impact, Sanders could go down as this century's most successful failed presidential hopeful. After conceding his loss to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, the Vermont senator has reportedly made it a priority to continue to steer the party to the left. And considering his record of integrity and his newfound political clout, the issues that the Democrats have yet to embrace, such as Native American rights, may finally get the attention they sorely deserve.
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