Event—Scholarly Seminars

"We Came to Fight a Black Snake"


The manuscript explores discourse surrounding a bitter dispute that erupted in 2016 over the construction of a crude oil pipeline in the United States. The pipeline, called the black snake by detractors, would run more than one-thousand miles from North Dakota to Illinois. Objections to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) caught fire when its path was rerouted from the city of Bismarck to course instead under the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s supply of water. Tribal members and their supporters set up camps near the construction site to oppose the pipeline, calling themselves water protectors, and eschewing the label of protestors. Discourse over the social movement was ignited by activists who seized the metaphorical megaphone and took control of the narrative by issuing their own news reports over social media, avoiding gatekeeping and censorship by mainstream writers and editors. Conventional media, in turn, were forced to attend to the activists’ messages of resistance.

Cynthia-Lou Coleman is a Professor of Communication at Portland State University. Her areas of inquiry focus on the social construction of science in mainstream discourse and the effects of framing on biopolitical policies that impact American Indian communities. She teaches communication theory, research methods, propaganda and science communication. Prof. Coleman received a Fulbright Research Chair in 2019 to study First Nations concerns over environmental communication. She has also held fellowships with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.