Shailene Woodley, the actress who plays a hero revolutionary in the “Divergent” film series, was recently arrested for protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and she is hoping to use her arrest to bring attention to the injustices taking place. Woodley was charged with criminal trespassing and engaging in a riot, and pled not guilty in court this Wednesday.
For those of you new to the story of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the pipeline is being constructed by the Energy Transfer Partners corporation and will stretch 1,172 miles from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, crossing the Missouri river.
The pipeline runs alongside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, and according to the National Historic Preservation Act, the tribe should have been consulted about the project before it was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to a lawsuit filed by an organization representing the tribes, “The construction and operation of the pipeline, as authorized by the Corps, threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the tribe” — indeed, it already has.
Despite the fact that thousands of native people have been protesting the project for months, the situation was largely absent from the mainstream media until Woodley’s arrest, which prophetically occurred on Oct. 10, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which was formerly known as Columbus Day in many places.
In a recent article for Time, Woodley laid out a strong case against the pipeline, saying that, “When the Dakota Access Pipeline breaks (and we know that too many pipelines do), millions of people will have crude-oil-contaminated water. I know it is easy to be apathetic or detached from the reality that fossil fuel contamination could actually affect you and the ones you love… But hear me loud and clear: If you are a human who requires water to survive, then this issue directly involves you. Don’t let the automatic sink faucets in your homes fool you—that water comes from somewhere, and the second its source is contaminated, so is your bathtub, and your sink, and your drinking liquid. We must not take for granted the severity of this truth.”
Humbly, she called attention to the 26 others who were detained in the Morton County jail with her and pointed out that it is a shame that the media will not recognize the arrests of peaceful protesters unless a celebrity’s name is involved.
“Treaties are broken. Land is stolen. Dams are built. Reservations are flooded. People are displaced. Yet we fail to notice. We fail to acknowledge. We fail to act. So much so that it took me, a white non-native woman being arrested on Oct 10th in North Dakota, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to bring this cause to many people’s attention. And to the forefront of news publications around the world,” she said.
Adding later, “What if we took the hashtag #FreeShailene and made it #ProtectCleanWater, or #HonorNativeTreaties, or #IStandWithStandingRock?”
Woodley also pointed out that Native Americans are entirely ignored and forgotten in mainstream settings, and yet they still face a considerable amount of oppression.
The racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement are Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites, and Asian Americans.
Native Americans, 0.8 percent of the population, comprise 1.9 percent of police killings.
Shailene Woodley should be commended for her actions, and for using her influence to branch out into activism and get others involved. People who are in the public eye have a choice to either be a propaganda mouthpiece, or an avenue for change. There is no middle ground. In times of great injustice, those who are silent side with the oppressors, especially if those who are silent have wealth, notoriety, and a platform to reach people with important messages.
It is rare for people to use their positions in the public eye to stir up moral and philosophical debate, however, because examples have been made of people who have tried in the past. We’ve seen this media tar and feathering very recently with the controversy surrounding football player Colin Kaepernick, who has refused to stand for the national anthem ritual that the military pays the NFL millions to recite at the beginning of every game.
Yet, despite the risks of becoming a pariah in the media and losing job opportunities, Woodley has taken a stand for what is right, and you can get involved too. Will you join us?