Dear Maya M,
My dear student Plato has brought to my attention your stance on the Dakota Access Pipeline. From my understanding, the Dakota Access Pipeline transports oil from Illinois all the way to North Dakota, passing through Iowa and South Dakota. But the pipeline also passes through Native American reservations. As a result, Indigenous people have protested the creation of the line to preserve their water source and sacred land. Although our circumstances are different, for I am living in Athens in 360 B.C.E., and you are living in the contemporary United States, my opinion on the matter is clear. I believe that the citizens protesting the creation of the Dakota Access pipeline are not just in doing so. Whether or not the pipeline is supported by the citizens of the United States, it is the fundamental duty of all citizens to follow their government, despite disagreements.
In 360 B.C.E., I was put under arrest and sentenced to death by my home government in Athens. Despite efforts from my students and friends to help me escape, I was resolved to accept my punishment (8-10). The voices of Athens spoke to me in my jail cell and told me that I needed to accept my punishment . They said, “‘You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception’” (19). The laws of Athens said to me, “‘If he does not like us when he has come of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him; and none of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him’” (18).
The same reasoning applies to the Native American people protesting the pipeline. They live in the United States, and they are under a fundamental obligation to follow the government. As citizens, they have the right to not support the creation of the pipeline. But they shouldn’t protest to express their concerns. There are no laws that the United States has that are holding the Indigenous people in the country. If they find the current situation unacceptable, they should leave the country. All citizens have the right to disagree, and, if their government is not responsive to their concerns, to leave the territory of that government.
I hope that I have created some insight for you on how I view this topic. My views are the same in all lands, past and present.
From your dear friend,
Thank you for taking the time to write to me. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests are events about which I feel strongly, and I appreciate hearing your perspective on the topic. Despite your beliefs on the protests and the reasoning you used, I still stand with my opinion. I believe that the civil disobedience shown by the protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline is justified because they were nonviolently protesting an unjust government system that hurt them and their land. Whether or not the protesters were defying their government, as Martin Luther King Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” (74). If we don’t stand up against injustice of any form, from a middle school bully, to a powerful government oppressing a whole race of people, justice will be denied.
In your letter you said that it is the duty of all citizens to follow their government, in spite of disagreements. The voices of Athens in your head told you, “‘You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception’” (19). While I understand you believe that all citizens of the United States should obey their government, the Dakota Access Pipeline situation shows that this obedience is not always the correct path. In this case, the US government has broken their agreements with the Indigenous tribes protesting the line. “The Standing Rock Sioux also argue that the pipeline traverses a sacred burial ground. And while the land being used for the pipeline is not technically on its reservation, tribal leaders argue that the federal government did not adequately engage the Standing Rock Sioux during the permitting process—a requirement under federal law” (Worland). The United States government has directly broken their agreements with Indigenous tribes in the Dakotas, so why should the protesters keep their “agreements” with the government. The government has also broken the First Amendment. The First Amendment allows for the right to protest peacefully. According to the news source Time, “Protesters and tribal leaders have accused officials of unnecessarily rough treatment. Police have used pepper spray, rubber bullets and concussion cannons, among other tactics, according to the tribe” (Worland). The United States was structured around the Bill of Rights, and if the government cannot support the most fundamental of its principles, then action needs to be taken to create equity and justice. As one of your admirers, Martin Luther King Jr said, “Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest” (79). How can the people of the country be expected to follow the agreements of their country, when their country can’t even follow its own agreements?
It is also important to remember that the Indigenous tribes living the United States never really made agreements with the government to obey their rules. It is important to remember that European white colonists came to the United States centuries ago and destroyed Indigenous tribes with the diseases they brought with them, and by murderous hand. It is important to remember that after white colonists decided to create their own country on Indigenous land, they physically forced Indigenous people off the land they had occupied for centuries. Indigenous culture was eliminated by greedy white colonists through a process of oppression that lasted hundreds of years. It’s important to remember that after all the brutality that Native American tribes have had to go through, they still have yet to agree to the white man laws of the United States. The US created their government on Indigenous soil, and Native tribes never agreed to the laws of the land: they were subjugated to follow them. The Indigenous protesters of the pipeline never agreed to the US laws, so they aren’t breaking any agreements they had with the United States. Rather, the US colonists were defying your principles when they did not respect the governments that existed when they arrived to the new world.
Another point that you mentioned was, “‘If he does not like us when he has come of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him; and none of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him’” (18). In other words, If you don’t like the laws of the land that you reside in, then move to a different country. Although I understand your point, and that most Athenians had this opportunity during 360 B.C.E., this is not the case in the modern world. For example, if ones does not like the laws of the United States, one cannot just move to a different country. It is now necessary to go through the immigration process and try to obtain a permanent resident card. For some people trying to obtain permanent residence in another country, this process can take years, and often, they are declined residence. Despite the fact that you have the same view, past and present, the immigration laws of the whole world have changed, making it impossible to just leave a country if you don’t like its laws.
As one of your greatest followers, Martin Luther King Jr, said, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (76). The United States has failed to come to terms with the fact that Indigenous people are still greatly oppressed. Their nonviolent protests are justified because they are fighting an oppressive governmental system that disregards their rights. I understand that you believe it’s the people’s duty to follow their government at all costs. But Indigenous people never chose to be a part of the United States: they were forced to be citizens by white oppressors. I hope that you will agree with me that if we don’t stop injustice of any kind, justice in general is denied.
Worland, Justin. “Dakota Access Pipeline: What to Know About the Controversy.” Time, Time, 28 Oct. 2016,
Plato, and C. J. Emlyn-Jones. Crito. Bristol Classical, 1999.