Don’t know what the fuck is going on in Standing Rock? Well you should, and not only that you should care, deeply. Let me break it down for you. Standing Rock Indian Reservation falls on the border of North and South Dakota. It is there you’ll find a population of just over 8,000 people that span 4 counties including the Sioux and Ziebach county of North Dakota and the Corson and Dewey county of South Dakota. Typically most of us wouldn’t know of Standing Rock (especially here in Canada), however these days, with the mention of Standing Rock we direct our attention to the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (#noDAPL) In April of 2016 an Energy Partners Transfer access pipeline was approved that would run from North Dakota to Illinois, cutting underneath the Missouri and Mississippi rivers including a part of Lake Oahe near the reservation. This approval came without the consultation of residents or elders currently on the land, and was the cause of protests that have been on-going since April – believing the pipeline to be a inherent hazard to their water supply and spiritual land.
This is what I’m here to tell you. You should care about this – even if you think they SHOULD put a pipeline in, hell they should put TWENTY pipelines in. There’s a bigger issue – much bigger.
As with any peaceful protest, the big guys send in the troops. You know – better to be prepared when the drum circles gets out of hand or the fires get too high. Police have been on guard while a collective of people gathers morning, noon and night. As of October, there have been 140 arrests – a number I’m sure is still rising. Police have used everything from tear gas, dogs, sound weapons and water in sub-freezing temperatures as a method of “crowd control”. A road barricade was put in place adding an additional 30 minutes to the nearest hospital. For the love of … this is a collective group of people that have set up teepees, kitchens and several collective spaces. Who stand together in drum circles chanting traditional Sioux and Lakota songs, who start fires for warmth and for cooking, and who haven’t let each other go without since April. Tribes that haven’t entered Sioux territory in a long time – like the Pawnee – have come as a gesture of solidarity. These are the people that have been sprayed, and tear gassed and shot down in an attempt to stop a non-violent protest.
WHY is this important you may ask? I’m glad you did. Since the Europeans literally stepped off the boat to explore the Americas they’ve had a great time pillaging and massacring their way through Indian territory. Don’t get me wrong there have been a few Europeans that have resided on the side of peaceful co-habitation, but that’s very few. Don’t forget important moments in history like the Trail of Tears (1838-1839) where an entire Cherokee nation was forced to give up all their land just east of the Mississippi river to migrate to an area now known as present day Oklahoma. 4,000 died on this migration. But, it wasn’t just the Cherokee – it was their neighbours as well. The Chicksaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Creek – who together with the Cherokee where fondly known as the “five civilized tribes”, as they were the fastest and most effective at adopting western ways. They too were forced to move in a massive migration which is now known as ‘The Great Removal’ where 100,000 people were displaced, over 20,000 of which died on the journey. Then, the Plains Indians (now collectively referred to as the Sioux) where pushed out of their land, then Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull – which were actually victories observed in South Dakota but an eventual defeat. Come 1890, Wounded Knee – where hundreds of Sioux were massacred including women and children. Horrible horrible pieces of history, incalculable deaths, hundreds of thousands of people forcibly removed from what they knew to be their only way of life – things that most of us couldn’t possibly begin to understand.
Fast forward to 1968 where we saw the passing of the Indian Civil Rights Act – which if you’re unfamiliar is kind of similar to the Bill of Rights. What’s The Bill of Rights? The Bill of Rights is the first 10 commandments to the United States Consitution. You know how every 3 seconds someone references the constitution as their fundamental excuse for some kind of shitty behaviour? Or how in every law show someone ‘pleads the fifth’ and you have no idea what they’re talking about? That one. Do you know what else it’s handy for? Literally every freedom or right you’ll ever have as a human being, in the United States. First commandment – the guarantee of freedom of religion, speech, press and freedom to a peaceful assembly. (To name so few.) This includes protection against anyone who chooses to interfere with these things. This is also the notorious document that guarantees the right to ‘bear arms’ (second amendment.) The fourth amendment guarantees against unreasonable search and seizures, the fifth amendment protects against self-incrimination, the right to due process and a grand jury. I could go on, but you get it. In 1990, we saw the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act – which is the preservation of cultural items that INCLUDE human remains – get passed. In 1996, probably the most important one here, the Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites is passed. Which was established to protect and preserve Indian religious practices. It directs that each Federal agency that oversees federal lands to:
“(1) accommodate access to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners and (2) avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of such sacred sites.”
This document goes on to state that “procedures implemented or proposed to facilitate with appropriate Indian tribes and religious leaders.” The fact that fast-tracked construction continued after failing to deliver a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment, consulting with the residents and elders and using excessive force as a counteraction to peaceful protest is a direct violation of human rights. A violation of the acts that were put in place to protect Native American affairs. They are not only being blatantly disregarded, but spat on, in the face of the very people trying to protect them.
What makes a society a democratic one is that it’s governed by the people, for the people. Rooted in the inherent protection of human rights and civil liberties. What does it say about a civilized society where force rises above democratic process? What does it show you about the United States and about your rights and freedoms, that you so vehemently defend every day? It says that so long as you stay in line, where you’re supposed to be, and you don’t disrupt the money and the power – you’ll be left alone. Should you decide to disagree with the presiding belief – the belief that those who hold power can take what they want, when they want it – you’re headed into a world of hurt. The truth of the matter is, you’re not as free as you think you are. The protection of a basic human right – water – is being fought over with unnecessary force, and this is just one small fraction of water for this particular population. What should happen to us when we start to see other resource scarcity? And on a larger scale? What happens when Nestle buys all the water rights and all of a sudden we’re left with none? What do you think the ramifications of that will be for the rest of us, outside of Standing Rock?
Remember, history may be filled with gruesome wars and bloody tales, which have led us into a false sense of hesitation and villification toward our fellow brethren. We have come to believe that when everything else falls away, we fight and we hate. This simply does not have to be the case. Take for example the Rosenstrasse Protest. A protest that happened in Berlin in early 1943 due to the arrest of Jewish husbands of non-Jewish wives. While the husbands were held captive, the wives stood outside, together engaging in a peaceful protest until after 2 months, the husbands were finally released. Challenge yourself to compassion – to nonviolence. Let the people at Standing Rock be an example for the rest of the world.
In a quote from LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, she sums up the effect that this will have on their collective history.
The U.S. government is wiping out our most important cultural and spiritual areas. And as it erases our footprint from the world, it erases us as a people. These sites must be protected, or our world will end, it is that simple. Our young people have a right to know who they are. They have a right to language, to culture, to tradition. The way they learn these things is through connection to our lands and our history.
If we allow an oil company to dig through and destroy our histories, our ancestors, our hearts and souls as a people, is that not genocide?
Be on the right side of history. Stand with Standing Rock.