Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures
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Environmental Issues and Culture

February 4th, 2017 | Posted by Barbara Lynn Weaver in Uncategorized

How do environmental issues register differently in different cultures?

 (Or do they?)

While cultural differences can be found by observing communities separated by oceans, like in the South Pacific short stories from this past week, there is a prime example much closer to home. The installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline and recent mistreatment of Native American heritage sites has created a cultural divide in the United States over the course of the last year. As the pipeline threatens to cut through areas of spiritual significance, Native Americans are standing and defending, not for money or power, but for their connection to the earth.
The resistors call themselves “protectors, not protesters” (Elbein). The subtle difference creates a huge message that the people of Standing Rock are defenders of nature, not owners. Grassrope, an indigenous tribesman, further illuminates the cultural divide between Native Americans and otherAmericans:

“Most people who come here never had a role to play in their own lives. We saw a lot of lost people, people who don’t realize they’re more than Americans. Their ancestors are indigenous from somewhere, which means they were once caretakers of the Earth” (Elbein).

This mentality of being keepers of the environment comes in stark contrast when considered next to the business-like, immediate-fix mindset that plagues so much of the United States. One protector was asked how long she would stand with Standing Rock, and “She laughed: “Until it’s done. Where would I go?” (Elbein). Her commitment characterizes the dedication of Native Americans to the earth as one that transcends time. These protector’s lives will not carry on when water quality and the earth are in jeopardy.

Environmental issues absolutely vary from culture to culture, just as cultural responses to such issues vary. For Native Americans, the DAPL is threatening a member of their tribe, the source of life. For other Americans, it may be threatening land value or their subjective ideal of nature. However, while the environmental issues register differently, one thing remains unchanged: “Water is Life.”

Works Cited:
Elbein, Saul. “These Are the Defiant “Water Protectors” of Standing Rock.” National Geographic. Jan. 26, 2017. Web. Feb. 1, 2017. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/tribes-standing-rock-dakota-access-pipeline-advancement/

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