Manifest Destiny, Implicit Bias and the Dakota Access Pipeline

Contrary to at least his own belief, Donald Trump was not the first person to think that we need to “make America great again.” In the 19th century, American settlers advocated a policy of manifest destiny in which they expanded the nation as far and wide as possible, so that American virtues and ideologies would touch the furthest corners of the continent. Although it may not have been said overtly, this policy implies that some people, namely Native Americans already living on the land in question, will be steamrolled in the process.

Unfortunately, this process is still ongoing. Events such as the current Dakota Access Pipeline expansion, which is occurring against the will of the native peoples, are often met with media silence or only limited, fringe source-based coverage. As the video below shows, native protestors and their allies are being challenged by pepper spray- and dog-wielding guards. The construction company has already begun to desecrate the land, some of which serves as a burial ground for tribal elders, despite the attempts of the native peoples to slow or halt the project.

Why are these actions being taken by people engaged in non-violent protest? I think what we are seeing when we watch this video clip is an intersection of privilege and implicit bias. Those involved in building the pipeline are perpetuating the notion of manifest destiny and taking what they view as theirs, ignoring the pleas of the native peoples who reside on the land. They are able to move forward so freely because of their privilege, which is based in status and finances but may also be aided by race and gender. As for the violence, I would suggest that the decision to use pepper spray and attack dogs to control the protestors is based at least in part in implicit bias against Native Americans. Cultural stereotypes of Native Americans cast them as “savages” who are wild, uncivilized, and violent. Implicitly, then, there may be a belief that violence is the natural first step to use in combating them. I doubt the response would have looked like this if the crowd of protestors had been entirely White. Interestingly, I also think this theory could be applied to the violence we have seen against Black men and Black Lives Matter protestors, as Blacks (especially young men) are also portrayed as wild and animalistic.

This complex situation merits more widespread coverage, so please share it with your friends.

1 Comment

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One Response to Manifest Destiny, Implicit Bias and the Dakota Access Pipeline

  1. rachellejohnson

    Shared. I agree, and this is not only a Native issue…their message, “water is sacred” is universal and natural resouces are co-owned with the next generation (all seven). Thank-you. ᏩᏙ

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