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Indigenous Resistances to Extractive Industry as Disruptive Public Participation: The Elsipogtog First Nation and Standing Rock Sioux



Research to be presented at the 2017 Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE), July 1, 2017, University of Leicester.

In fall 2016, violent images of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest near the Standing Rock Reservation stunned the world. Facebook users saw security guards sic attack dogs on Native women and children and police fire water cannons at praying protesters in subfreezing temperatures. However, the issue had not gained widespread mainstream media and public attention until the 1,172-mile pipeline was nearly complete, after more than two years of opposition from the tribe. It wasn’t until activists shared violent images on social media that public outrage forced policymakers to act. We argue that activities which heighten public attention to an issue through social media amplification constitute what we call disruptive public participation, which may empower activists and help “outsiders” become “insiders” in decision-making.

In both the Elsipogtog and Standing Rock cases, protest was ongoing for significant periods of time before they received widespread public attention. We argue that police crackdown on Indigenous communities and associated reports of violence and spikes in arrests of demonstrators are correlated with spikes in social media, as well as mainstream media, attention. The stakes of in-person involvement in protests are incredibly heightened. The circulation of violent images on social media—shared by “water protectors” on-the-ground and from outsiders offering solidarity and expressions of moral outrage—resulted in a spike in mainstream media attention.

Indigenous Resistances to Extractive Industry as Disruptive Public Participation: The Elsipogtog First Nation and Standing Rock Sioux

  2. 2. • Internet-mediated activism by individuals, or groups of people, who see themselves as outsiders to decision-making processes • Use of digital and social media applications to amplify and document dissent • Traditional modes of public participation are exhausted or perceived to be ineffective Disruptive Public Participation
  3. 3. Twitter conversation case studies ¨ 2013: Elsipogtog First Nation opposition to shale gas exploration in New Brunswick, Canada ¨ 2016/17: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, United States
  4. 4. Map credit: By Mikmaq - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5. Available at: Elsipogtog First Nation
  5. 5. Mi’kmaq Encounters & Colonization ¨ 1534 King Francis I claims “Acadie” for France; Mi’kmaq never consulted ¨ By 1780s, 6,000 Acadians living on Mi’kmaq lands ¨ Colonization Effects ¤ British sign peace & friendship treaties with Mi’kmaq ¤ French lose war; cede Acadia (New Brunswick) to British. ¤ Loyalists flood area after American Revolutionary War. ¤ Mi’kmaq experience massive land loss 2013 New Brunswick signs fracking contract with Texas energy company; no consultation with Mi’kmaq
  6. 6. Great Sioux Nation
  7. 7. Great Sioux Nation ¨ Standing Rock is one of 5 Lakota Reservations in the West ¨ Encountered French, then Americans ¨ 19th Century Colonization ¤ First Fort Laramie Treaty—safe passage for settlers & miners heading west (immediately broken) ¤ Second Fort Laramie Treaty- acknowledged Sioux claims to Black Hills, safe passage for settlers (immediately broken after gold is discovered in Black Hills) ¤ Battle of Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee Massacre; land loss, poverty, despair
  8. 8. Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline Map credit: By Carl Sack, A #NoDAPL Map. Available at:
  9. 9. Standing Rock and DAPL Twitter Standing Rock: 13,596,975 posts Dakota Access Pipeline: 1,571,896 posts Data collected with Crimson Hexagon
  10. 10. Elsipogtog Twitter Elsipogtog: 185,329 posts Data collected with Crimson Hexagon
  11. 11. Twitter Conversation Topics A series of chi-square tests for independence were conducted, all were significant.
  12. 12. Standing Rock vs. DAPL – Nov. 20-21, 2016 Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline “Use of force” posts make up 58%, followed by “water protection” (31%). Top 10 retweeted include more individuals and two from @IENearth. “Native/treaty rights” posts make up 57%, followed by “calls for government intervention” (24%). Seven of the top 10 most retweeted are mainstream news.
  13. 13. “Use of force” images can spark viral topics
  14. 14. $3 million…GoFundMe $2.8 million…Legal Defense Fund $ millions more…online supply wish lists (ie., How much did DAPL resonate? 10,000 supporters visited DAPL camps 400 Tribal Flags posted at Sacred Stone DAPL camp 561,000+ signed online petition
  15. 15. Disruptive Social Media as Participation ¨ A way for marginalized groups to draw attention to their concerns ¨ Social media attention, similar to media and public attention, is episodic and event-driven ¨ Images depicting violence can spark “viral topics” and heighten public attention ¨ Political opportunities still critical to achieving movement goals
  16. 16. THANK YOU! QUESTIONS? Jill Hopke (, Patty Loew (