I returned from Standing Rock on Monday evening, after working for 5 days alongside those working to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from being built through South Dakota. What is going on at Standing Rock is historical and monumental. At Oceti Sakowin Camp (literally Seven Councils fire camp) the Seven tribes of the Great Sioux Nation have lit their sacred fire together for the first time in over 150 years. Thousands of water protectors have gathered from all corners of the globe to oppose DAPL and fight for our rights. We must support Standing Rock. I’ve tried to carefully boil down the reasons in this post.
On my final morning at Standing Rock, I stood on a vacant roadway, looking down onto the Highway 1806 bridge over Cantapeta Creek as it winds its final few thousand feet to the Missouri River.
I stood shivering with a Navajo man, who was a Christian minister, and a scholar named Mark Charles, speaking about the Doctrine of Discovery while we looked over the plains. In front of us on the bridge were two ancient, large army supply trucks - wedged into position on the bridge and burned to the ground to stop the police advance. On the opposing slope we could see the police watching us through binoculars, their vehicles, and the police snipers watching us through their scopes. A surveillance plane still circled. In fact, it had circled almost non-stop, day and night, for the past two days, even though the area was supposed to be closed airspace.
Standing on that road, and being in the camp for 5 days made a deep and significant impression on me. I noticed that this fight is the intersection of many concurrent and inter-related struggles, which I’ll try to explain as briefly as possible, and in no particular order.
First, there is the environmental component. This pipeline carries fracked oil from the Bakken shale. Though fracking (the process of injecting high pressure liquid into rocks to extract oil or gas) creates a good handful of jobs for a few years, it destroys water and land, and once the fracked oil/gas is purified and burned, releases CO2 into our atmosphere, further accelerating the greenhouse effect. Utilizing this oil also helps to keep us totally addicted to fossil fuels and delays our investment in alternatives.
Second, there is the 1st Amendment component… you know the part about “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Particularly in the age of Citizen’s United, when corporations are giving unlimited amounts of money to our politicians, we need to be able to assemble. We cannot allow the degradation of our constitutional rights. We should be particularly sensitive to what might look like a police force backing up a private company. And yet, and yet…
Throughout this struggle the state of North Dakota has showed us just how comfortable they are with denying us our right to assemble and speak freely. They have shot rubber bullets from a grenade launcher at a member of the press and hit her while she was reporting on camera. You can watch it here.
And you can watch the aftermath here.
They have maced and shot protesters demonstrating in the public space with rubber bullets at point blank range. Rubber bullets are considered non-lethal at range, but not point blank. You can watch.
Luckily they’ve only broken ribs and left people of all ages sputtering and coughing up blood.
They even arrested a group of clergy at the State Capitol who were seeking a meeting with the governor, and then dispersed the crowd gathered outside with riot police. I watched on Facebook live.
And I know this fight isn’t necessarily in your backyard, so ask yourself: when your government decides to let an oil company dig up your ancestors’ graves to build a pipeline for their profit and you show up at your representative’s office to protest, will you be happy if they simply arrest you? What if you somehow manage to show up peacefully, unarmed even after they’ve already unearthed and destroyed your ancestor’s grave? Do you want the welcoming committee to be riot police? How does that prospect sound to you?
Thirdly, there is the eminent domain component. This issue is deeply involved with this pipeline because, unlike gas lines for household use, or our highway system, or our electrical grid - the common uses of eminent domain - this pipeline is being built to carry oil owned by a private company that can and will be exported and sold abroad. And when it is shipped away, it will be sold for the profit of a privately-owned company. Does that sound like re-appropriation of land “for ends of public utility”?
Fourthly, there is the Human Rights issue. The fundamental assumption of Human Rights is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity. The state of North Dakota has consistently failed to treat those protesting the pipeline in this manner, which is why observers from Amnesty International and the United Nations are now stationed at the protest site.
Fifthly, and very significantly, there is the indigenous rights issue. We white men arrived on a continent that was not ours, took it by force, massacred, murdered, raped and ultimately deported and quarantined the native inhabitants of this land. We called them “merciless Indian Savages” in our Declaration of Independence. We blocked them from becoming citizens, we put them in camps and we attempted to re-educate them. How can we rectify these actions? Do we really think we have? Do you think there would be hundreds of police, snipers, armored vehicles and a 24/7 air campaign going on in North Dakota if we really thought we had?
Sixthly, there is the Prophecy of the Seventh Generation. According to this prophecy, seven generations after contact with the Europeans the Onkwehonwe (original or native people) would see the day when the trees would die from the tops down, strange animals would be born deformed, the rivers would burn. Man would grow ashamed of the way that he had treated his mother and provider, the earth. According to this prophecy, after seven generations of living in close contact with the Europeans, the Onkwehonwe would rise up and demand that their rights and stewardship over the earth be respected and restored.
To be honest, I’ve never been much into prophecies, but this is a major reason that some people are at Standing Rock. According to what I heard, the seventh generation that the prophecy speaks of is now between 30 and 50 years old.
As I laid listening the pounding of the drum and the wild and simple honesty of the natives’ songs as I fell asleep each night, I knew very profoundly that, powerful though we modern men may think we are, we ought to take the example of native culture and community very seriously. Great respect and obedience to elders. Maintaining ancient traditions. Holding our connection to our Mother Earth as sacred.
Our Mother Earth.
I don’t want to be called an environmentalist. I don’t want to be called an activist. I’m a child. We are the fortunate children of a beautiful, powerful, magnificent mother. She has given us everything we need and more, but we’re jabbing spears into her and watching her blood run out. We must learn to respect and care for our mother. This is a common native perspective, but also obviously a perspective that every creature on the planet must share. This is our fight. Each and every one of us.
As we progress forward as a race, we can see clearly two ways of being. We can live out of love and compassion, we can hope for peace and strive for unity, or we can live out of pain, greed, denial, intolerance and insecurity.
We can stop climate change and protect our mother, but in order to stop climate change we must care for each other and this planet and change how we ourselves are acting. We are the ones pumping this gas into our tanks. When we change our own decisions, when we move closer to where we work or utilize alternative transportation, when we change our diet to reduce it’s impact, when we are ready to be arrested or harmed to protect our water, we invest in the future of our race, we invest in the well-being of our grandchildren and the future of our planet. By making these decisions we maintain that the power of love is stronger than the power of hate, and, in doing so, we become a global community.
It was hard to leave, because I felt more at home at Standing Rock than any place I’ve been before. I was deeply touched by the love that is so obvious there, and I hope my post has shared that love with you.
#noDAPL #waterislife #mniwiconi