In this case study we inspect cultural divide as it relates to the 2016 presidential election. Taking a look at inclusion and exclusion, as the cultural gap between politicians and their voters has grown to a greater level. We will examine the growing distance that exists between the marginalized and elite as it relates to the Dakota Pipeline Access controversy. The use of social media has brought the disdain of the Native culture to the populous, attracting support around the globe including celebrities.


What is the Dakota Access Pipeline? The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172-mile-long underground oil pipeline project in the United States. The route beings in the Bakken shale oil fields in Northwest North Dakota and travels in a more or less straight line South-East, through South Dakota and Iowa, at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline is currently under construction by Dakota Access. This project was planned for delivery by January 1, 2017. On November 26, 2016, the project was reported to be 87% completed (Wikipedia, 2017).

The Dakota Pipeline was suspended due to months of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their supporters. They argued that the project would contaminate drinking water and damage sacred burial sites. The US Army corps of engineers suspended the project last year, but in February 2017 said it planned to grant final easement for the remaining section of the project (BBC, 2017). During this controversy, many Native Americans were upset. They accused the government of not consulting them before going ahead with the construction, which would be required since it was on their land. Later in the article on the BBC website it was stated that the pipeline construction was a little to the right of their land. Donald Trump backing the Dakota pipeline created many problems with Native Americans and environmentalists. Within days of taking office, he signed the memoranda supporting the Dakota pipeline telling the Army to review it. Trump stated he believes finishing the pipeline will “serve the national interest” and ordered an “expedited” review. He also ordered the Army to “consider” withdrawing its December memo, which effectively passed the project. The Dakota pipeline project will resume (BBC, 2017).

Science and environmental health network reject the pipeline. Conservation groups worry about safety, air, water, wildlife, and farming because of the risk of pipeline disruption (Wikipedia, 2017). In the event of a leak or spill, drinking water and irrigation would be contaminated, creating a disaster for those whom live in these areas.

Theoretical Analysis

Per Communication Theory, “the core concepts of the standpoint theory are to understand the perspective of the marginalized society. Standpoint varies from one person to the other but the collectiveness in perspective can be viewed in certain groups where they share common environments.” In the case of the Dakota Pipeline project, Native Americans, in particular the Standing Rock Sioux, are the marginalized society.

The Standing Rock Sioux are gaining support from hundreds of tribes across the country. Native Americans have long leaned on the support of each other in their resistance regarding land rights (NPR). Each one understanding and sharing a commonality, helping to advocate for the marginalized group. Not only have the Native Americans stood together, the issue took off on social media, with hundreds of thousands of people checking in to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation on FB, in October 2016, in hopes of distracting local law enforcement from demonstrators. #NoDAPL trended on all social media platforms to raise awareness.

Recently an environmental justice analysis was made available through court records, concluding “that the pipeline’s original path near Bismarck would have “more direct and more disproportionate” impacts to minorities. Those communities surrounding Bismarck are 96 percent white and only 2 percent of residents live below the poverty line” (Inside Climate News).

The demographic analysis is coming under scrutiny as it excluded the reservation from the analysis. While there is no universal methodology to conduct the analysis, this approach seems controversial as it used only a half-mile radius, falling 80 yards short of the reservation (Inside Climate News). From the standpoint of the analysis, it appears that the reservation isn’t affected, however, since the pipeline will be upstream from the reservation, if there were to be a leak, it would contaminate the water that is used by this community for survival.

As seen below, Standing Rock falls below the national average in income, with 40% living in poverty and is predominantly Native American. The Dakota Pipeline will run about a half-mile upstream from the reservation under Lake Oahe, that is used by the tribe for drinking, irrigation, and fishing (Inside Climate News).

Student Analysis

Public policy and organization management can learn from Standpoint Theory (ST) and use the knowledge to produce better lives for the American people as a whole.  Adler call’s out that “We live in a world of immense and unnecessary suffering and destruction…Facing this human-made misery, a posture of quiet acceptance would mean tacit endorsement” (Adler, p941). Wow! A bold statement… “a posture of quiet acceptance would mean tacit endorsement”. Sounds very familiar when thinking about the direction our politics have gone recently with the horrid gap between the rich and the basically no longer existing middle class in America. So as far as policy, we believe ST can be helpful in taking a look at what’s going on with the “other” if “we begin the research process by formulating questions from these alternative standpoints and then examine the reality of management and organizations from these perspectives” (Adler, p943). Since management scholarship already has public policy implications, it may “provide actionable knowledge for the exploited and their advocates…in this way, it can promote more just and more democratic public policy debate” (Adler, p 943).

Works Sited

Adler, P., & Jermier, J. (2005). Developing A Field With More Soul: Standpoint Theory And Public Policy Research For Management Scholars. Academy of Management Journal, 48(6), 941-944. doi:10.5465/amj.2005.19573091

Communication Theory. The Standpoint Theory. communicationtheory.org/the-standpoint-theory/. Accessed 04 Mar 2017.

“Dakota Pipeline: What’s behind the controversy?” BBC News. BBC, 07 Feb 2017. Web 27 Feb. 2017.

“Dakota Access Pipeline.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Mar 2017. Web. 05 Mar 2017.

Donnella, Leah. NPR. The Standing Rock Resistance is Unprecedented (It’s also centuries old). 22 Nov 2016. Accessed 04 Mar 2017. www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/11/22/502068751/the-standing-rock-resistance-is-unprecedented-it-s-also-centuries-old.

Grossman, David. Popular Mechanics. The Dakota Pipeline Controversy Explained. 24 Jan 2017. Accessed 04 Mar 2017. www.popularmechanics.com/technology/infrastructure/a23658/dakota-pipeline-protests/

Harding, S. (2008). How Standpoint Methodology Informs Philosophy of Social Science. The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 291-310. doi:10.1002/9780470756485.ch12

McKenna, Phil. Inside Climate News. Confidential Dakota Pipeline Memo: Standing Rock Not A Disadvantaged Community Impacted By Pipeline. 6 Mar 2017 Accessed 06 Mar 2017. insideclimatenews.org/news/06032017/dakota-access-pipeline-protests-dapl-standing-rock-environmental-assessment-trump.