Cultural Capital: The Standing Rock Sioux



Native Americans have a long-standing history of disenfranchisement by the American Government. It is this history that makes the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline marginalizing, disrespectful, and exploitive. According to Green and Haines, cultural capital defines communities based on “unique forms of art, history, and tradition” (Green & Haines, 2016). The consultants for the Dakota Access Pipeline did not independently survey the area, but instead used surveys from 1985 to approve construction (Meyer, 2016). What they missed were newly discovered and historically significant archeological sites, specifically a rock formation in the form of the Big Dipper, which was most likely the burial ground of a highly respected Chief (Meyer, 2016). Unfortunately, these sites were in the construction zone for the pipeline, and less than 24 hours after the evidence of new sacred sites were provided to the court, the Dakota Access company began construction on those same, sensitive sites, “perhaps destroying them forever” (Meyer, 2016). The Camber of Commerce also labeled them as “anti-energy protestors” instead of members of the Sioux tribe (Meyers, 2016). The destruction of the Standing Rock Sioux sacred land and the nature of the description of these protestors disregard the community’s cultural capital.


Cultural capital can be characterized by the “iceberg model” – on the tip of the iceberg, there is surface culture, like language, food, and art; there is also unspoken culture, which can be notions of leadership, courtesy, and nonverbal communication; the last type are the unconscious rules, which includes the concept of past and future and the definition of obscenity. Dakota Access were negligent of the tribe’s cultural land and artifacts, thus disrespecting their cultural capital. The lack of recognition of their artifacts disrespects their surface culture because they are objects and places that define their history. On a deeper level, it disrespects the unspoken sacredness of burial grounds, thus going further to the unconscious level of Native American ideals of obscenity. To destroy something sacred is obscene and deeply offensive. The fact that they were called anti-energy protestors as opposed to Native Americans in solidarity over their land is a deep offense to both their land and the long history of American disrespect to American Indians. Overall, the treatment of this tribe during the Dakota Access Pipeline is a direct assault to the cultural capital of the Standing Rock Sioux.








Green, G.P. & Haines, Foster (2016). Asset Building & Community Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Meyer, R. (2016, September 9). The Legal Case for Blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline. Retrieved October 01, 2016, from