“500 years. 500 years that the Native Americans have been ridiculed by the whites, it’s been so long and yet you haven’t changed, money before humans.” 13-year-old Cristina Torres has been reading lots of speeches in Mr. Fischer’s class and knows that she wants to start her speech about the Dakota Access Pipeline with a bold statement. Torres knows she can support those strong words with strong evidence because she has been studying the history of indigenous peoples in one class and the history of manmade environmental impacts on U.S. in another.
Like all 8th graders participating in the common core, Cristy Torres is learning to write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence. Because she is a student at the Academy for Global Citizenship, an International Baccalaureate public school with an environmental and social mission, Torres is developing these skills through concepts that are relevant to her time and place within an interdisciplinary unit of inquiry.
AGC Language and Literacy teacher Mr. Fischer feels that the political context helps draw students into the unit. “The speeches that we have been writing have been very helpful for students perspective taking skills. I think there is a great deal of empathy being developed by our students. I notice that many students are writing things like, ‘To us the land is more that just soil and water.’ They are thinking in terms of their place in the broader society, and getting a taste of what it feels like to use their voice in a structured, supported, serious way.”
AGC had found that, when it is developmentally appropriate, topics in social justice and environmental stewardship promote academic excellence and student-led learning. Developing the perspective of a global citizen takes time, and, in younger grades, students may not be ready to learn about things like climate change. AGC has an rule: “no tragedies before 3rd grade.” In the early years, AGC’s curriculum fosters the natural empathy and curiosity of children, inviting them to fall in love with nature and find wonder in the diversity of the human experience.
Torres and her classmates have been studying this issue from many angles and perspectives for six weeks. In Science class, she is studying the energy industry and how climate change impacts indigenous people. In Individuals and Societies, she is studying the history of indigenous peoples in America. In Language and Literacy, Mr. Fischer’s class, she is reading and writing first-person literature.
During weekly grade-band meetings and on professional development days, Cristy’s teachers got together to plan how the unit would align with common core standards, AGC’s sustainability program, and global citizenship continuum. These content standards are aligned within the International Baccalaureate framework and AGC’s cycle of inquiry. “We have deliberately planned the use of resources to work in conjunction with each other,” says Mr. Fischer. “We made sure that we were focusing on complementary events and time periods. We planned our assessments to complement each other but assess the students on different aspects of the criterion.”
Individuals and Societies Teacher, Berenice Salas (who is also an AGC parent) says that she appreciates collaboration because “we are really prioritizing holistic learning and the authentic learning process… not to mention the level of academic rigor that it demands! We are studying shared concepts, yet teaching our own disciplinary skills. We do not purposefully tell students, “you are learning an interdisciplinary unit…” they make those connections on their own- and when that moment happens, it is amazing! They also see their teachers collaborating and holding them responsible and accountable.
With the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock Protests so prevalent in the news, our students have developed especially passionate arguments. With Thanksgiving a few days away and protestors standing strong against pepper spray and water cannons at Standing Rock Protests, Torres’ words reverberate through the empty halls at AGC.
“500 years. 500 years that the Native Americans have been ridiculed by the whites, it’s been so long and yet you haven’t changed, money before humans. I understand that money rules our society, it always has. I understand that money is important and those broken treaties have been repeated through history so it doesn’t seem like such a big deal but putting their basic need to water at stake is ridiculous. You say it’s safe, but if it was why did you change the location from an 80% white town to a sacred reservation?
The ridicule has been going on for centuries, not just going to dig a pipeline under sacred land but to strip them of their religion and tell them that what they believe is wrong. Referencing Red Jacket’s defense of Native Americans speech of 1805, “You have our country but are still not satisfied, now you want to force Christianity upon us.” (1). It’s all connected! Your reasons and excuses changing with time. The Energy transfer partners claim it safe, not commenting on the fact that there were 26 oil spills in the United States in 2016 alone! We have been breaking treaties, treating them like dirt, all while making it seem like we’re the winners. A vicious cycle that no one seems to want to stop.
Let’s take a moment to remember the 1862 massacre, the hanging of 38 Native American men with no real evidence, you say it’s behind us but now you’re killing them in a different way, endangering their water supply. You claim it’s safe, that the pipeline won’t do anything to their land but you can’t just act like it’s never happened before, their fears are reasonable. For example: on April 17, 2016, a petroleum products pipeline failed in Wabash County, Il, resulting in 48,000 gallons of diesel oil being spilled onto the Wabash River(2). Along with that on March 11, 2016, a leaking plug on a pipeline tank farm in Sioux city, Iowa about 30,000 gallons spilled. (3) In addition, there have been 26 other oil spills in 2016 alone, so the threat is there you’re just doing your best to hide it.
Let’s take a moment to think about the effects that the oil spill would have on all living creatures around the water, the wildlife would die off, the Sioux relies on the water in the Missouri and the plants and animals it feeds as their source of food, it’s not only the Sioux relying on the Missouri river, it’s over a million people. To be fair it’s safer to put the pipeline underground than using a train or a car, so it’s a no-brainer for some to put the pipeline underground and even make the pipe shorter by using a shortcut, but it matters when you’re short cut’s go through sacred land that time and time again your promise to the Native Americans but end up taking it for your own gain.
Losing land isn’t new for them; broken treaties since the 1800’s and you’re still honoring those who killed innocent families in the “Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.” You’re going to say that was in the past but you’re taking their land, sacred land that contributes to greatly to their culture and society! You’re threatening their water supply all while digging a black snake into is horrifying! These most likely weren’t your intentions and you’re trying to improve our economy but this isn’t the way to go. “The military commissions that tried the Dakota was unfair and biased.”(4) So long ago and we’re still acting the same, blinded by money. We’re so blinded that we’re not listening to the people that don’t deserve this, they’re protecting their basic need, the need of water that we’re jeopardizing all while creating death at every turn. Digging up bodies and artifacts without any remorse or second thought.
All in all, the Native Americans have been ridiculed and pushed aside for centuries and it’s time we give them some respect! We’ve been repeating the same disrespectful and biased history by endangering their water supply and stealing and ruining sacred, religious, and cultural ground that we had already promised them. I know your intentions aren’t to kill off the indigenous people but all you care about it money and it’s getting in the way of your morals, we are oblivious to the facts that they have rights just as we do. Money runs the world but it shouldn’t run your mind. I hope you’ve gained a new perspective and understand how this action could endanger many lives, so think twice before you think.”
- Red Jacket Speech adapted by Newsela staff
- Jessica Plue. “UPDATE: The gas spill at Magellan Pipeline Company has been” Siouxland matters retrieve March 23, 2016
- Marczak,3 “The Dakota war of 1862: America’s Genocide 150 years ago Lingers on.”