If you’ve been following the protests occurring over the Dakota Access Pipeline, you may have seen pictures that tell part of the story: groups of defiant protesters holding hands as they stare down hoses and dogs, cold groups of people huddled together through the cold night. You may even have seen a map of the pipeline snaking its way through the Midwest from North Dakota to southern Illinois–but if that’s all you’ve seen, then you haven’t seen the whole picture.
Maps aren’t simply direct physical representations of the world. They are a human tool used to tell a human story. The most commonly shared map depicting the Dakota Access Pipeline makes it look almost innocuous: its small when placed against the scale of the United States, and the counties it touches are highlighted in pink. Maps like this don’t have the power to show why people are angry, and they certainly don’t succeed in demonstrating why the very route the pipe takes is dangerous.
A closeup of the route the pipe takes at its root in North Dakota tells a more accurate story. This map shows the original route the map was meant to take, through land inhabited mostly by white Americans. After the residents of affected places protested, the pipe route was changed, and the map also shows the new route: directly through Sioux land that was not ceded under an 1851 treaty.
The racial justice implications, clouded by the large-scale map, quickly become clear. The new route for the pipeline disadvantages Native American communities at the behest of white communities. The map also highlights important Native American archaeological sites that have already been bulldozed as a part of the DAPL project, damage that cannot be undone.
So too, do the implications for environmental justice. Viewed closely, it is impossible to miss how the pipe crosses major sources of drinking water time and time again. It allows skeptical eyes to see what protesters have so long claimed: that the pipeline jeopardizes safe drinking water for the Dakotas as a whole.
This is a map that needs to be more widely disseminated–for the good of the public, and for the good of the protesters at Standing Rock. We owe it to them to give this map a look.