Sheriffs, mercenaries, and dogs attacking women and children. Water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. A 21-year-old girl’s arm destroyed by a police grenade. A Native American woman’s face broken when shot by a tear gas canister. How can anyone remain silent and un-horrified at what is taking place at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota? How can the pitiful irony be lost on any American having just celebrated the great national farce that is Thanksgiving, as we watch the authoritative arm of our government yet again push Native Americans off their land and poison their resources for the benefit of large corporations, first through eminent domain and broken treaties, then through violence and oppression? Like no time before we are able to watch these events play out in real-time and living color, through images, videos, and testimonies on our social media feeds, the aggression too in our faces to be ignored. And while the movement at Standing Rock has continued to steadily grow, currently estimated to be around 6000 strong, many of us who cannot make the journey to North Dakota, and I’m sure even some who can, feel powerless, unsure what we can do to help this situation and end this authoritative abuse. How do you counter such a powerfully-backed and well-financed foe? Can the matter be won in court? Can the protesters ultimately prove successful, especially with the coming winter, or are they a stalling tactic until a greater strategy can be executed?
Standing Rock: The History
At the center of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests is an ugly American tradition as old as the nation itself, the theft of land from native peoples. There are a number of treaties and laws at play, the main ones being the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868. The race for resources, specifically gold, had resulted in many violent conflicts between Native Americans and white settlers. The 1851 Treaty designated a large area as Native American land in exchange for safe passage through said land and along the Oregon Trail (but no guarantees that a member of your party won’t get typhoid). The Treaty also first created the “Sioux” and the Great Sioux Nation, a political amalgamation of various Native American tribes, including the Lakota and Dakota. Not surprisingly, the US government failed to hold up their end of the bargain in controlling white invaders during the subsequent gold rush years and after a decade and half of conflict they attempted to negotiate another treaty. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty reduced the previously designated Sioux lands while giving them the exclusive right to grant or refuse entrance to the territory. This was, again, ignored and violated, most famously in 1874 as General Custer, at the behest of the US government, led a group into the Black Hills looking for gold. More white settlers invade, more violent conflict follows.
The US government countered by simply eliminating the necessary legalities, removing the Black Hills from Sioux land in 1877, and in 1887 passing the Dawes Act, which unilaterally and illegally divided the territory into six reservation allotments and attempted to forcibly assimilate Natives into US citizenship and society. These allotments opened up plots and areas to white settlement within the territory, though still technically under Sioux control per the 1868 Treaty. It is with this Act that the Standing Rock Reservation was created as one of the six, though its boundaries would be further eroded from its 1887 designation. In 1948, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Oahe Dam on the Missouri River, against the dissent of the Native leaders, which resulted in the flooding of 200,000 acres and the displacement of 25% of the Sioux population. A 1958 federal case maintained that the illegally dammed Lake Oahe was and indeed is part of the Sioux territory, but that the US government is permitted to abrogate its treaties whenever it suits their purpose. In September of that year they did so, removing Lake Oahe from Sioux territory.
In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that 1877 land seizure had been, in fact, illegal and awarded the Sioux Nation $15.5M (1877 property value) plus $105M in interest (103 years at 5%). The Sioux have rejected this payment and continue to fight for the rightful return of the land.
As seen here, the Dakota Access Pipeline is the latest in a long history of shady, shiesty, and otherwise illegal business practices of the US government in their dealings with our Native population. In April, the group ReZpect Our Water sent a petition to the Army Corps of Engineers to halt the construction, sighting a number of environmental concerns. The CoE responded in July with a hasty and incomplete review that has been contested by both the tribal representatives and legal analysts.
“In order to avoid doing a full EIS with public participation, the Corps used Nationwide Permit 12 to segment the project into over 1,000 easily rubber stamped pieces.”
Standing Rock: What the Fight is Really About
While the two Fort Laramie Treaties do provide the legal background to this issue, the real center is the policy of the American government to continuously change the rules and laws to suit our needs under some fuckboi notion of “sovereignty”. What it really elucidates is whose interests our country, its leaders, and its elected officials protect, and who they’re willing to roll over (quick literally, in this case) to achieve their oligarchical ends. It has the graphic disjointedness of a comic book, watching our government and its hired thugs advancing, literally and openly, the interests of Big Oil against the desires of the People, tyrannizing unarmed Native American civilians on fucking Thanksgiving.
The initial images of bulldozers digging up sacred burial grounds in September should have been shocking enough. Imagine if the local cemetery where generations of your family have made their final rest is suddenly sold to a condo developer. Your local community all gets out on the street and protests, angrily, sadly, and right in front of all of them they begin ripping up the ground, gravestones and all. Oh yeah, and then they get a bunch of hillbilly’s with dogs to attack you, your neighbors, and relatives. How mighty would the level of outrage be then, if these atrocities were perpetrated on White citizens? And that was an early stage of this conflict.
We live in an age where it would be encouraging to hope that a majority of Americans understand, at least to some degree and detail, the genocide carried out by the United States, its founders and predecessors, and then continued by its government for, quite literally, centuries. Yet we are now faced with images, in our homes and on our handheld devices, of the violent and ugly forces of that government representing the interests of American corporatism abusing those aiming to protect land and family… and we seem powerless to stop it.
Though various law enforcement agencies from around the region have been imported to oppose the water protectors, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department is the primary force. It is the MCSD that is responsible for the vicious and inhumane tactics, about which they have then routinely lied and spread misinformation. For instance, the original MCSD Facebook page claimed that Sophia Wilansky suffered her maiming injury last Sunday night (click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about) as a result of a homemade explosive constructed by protesters from a gas canister, not from a police grenade as Sophia, her father, and other water protectors have accounted. Believing video to not exist (more on this in a moment), the MCSD originally claimed no water cannons were used on water protectors in the middle of the night. When video surfaced, they quickly back-tracked, claiming it to be a simple fire hose and not the actual military grade weapon seen here . This past Saturday, the Facebook page for the MCSD, which they have been using to circulate their misinformation, mysteriously disappeared, with some speculating that it had been hacked. On Thursday the page reappeared, with the bad PR stories selectively deleted. The department also added a Twitter account and a Youtube page, along with a series of ‘Know the Truth’ videos designed to cast aspersion on the Standing Rock cause.
Earlier this week law enforcement convinced Ace Hardware stores in the area to not sell products to water protectors, but when met by a swift online #BoycottAceHardware movement the policy was officially rescinded by their corporate office.
In addition to the brutal tactics that some at Standing Rock have been able to get on film, there have been numerous accusations of arrested protesters stripped and held in dog cages and widespread blocking and intentional hacking of cellular and internet service so as to control the flow of information coming out of the camp.
These illegal and oppressive acts must be brought to light and properly vilified.
On Monday, November 28, citing the winter conditions and the unsuitable nature of the camp’s living structures, Governor Dalrymple ordered a mandatory evacuation of all camps north of the Cannonball River, effective this coming Monday, December 5. The order creates a ridiculous “free speech area” to the South, where water protectors are encouraged to migrate and watch the pipeline construction from a front-row seat. Following the order, the MCSD stated they would be blocking supplies to and from the camp but the governor’s office later rescinded, saying that would “be a huge mistake from a humanitarian standpoint”. They added that they also have no intention of forcibly removing anyone from the campsite. It would seem the MCSD and the Governor’s Office have some communication issues they need to work out. Monday may prove to be a crucial day in the course of this conflict.
All this ethical discourse about oppressive authority and the rights of our Native peoples is to say little of the flawed policy of multi-pipeline building that is highly prevalent among those on both the political Right and Left, as well as our incoming President-elect. How difficult is it for us to remember the worst environmental disaster ever perpetrated by man ONLY 6 FUCKING YEARS AGO ON OUR SOUTHERN COAST?!!! Why does it feel so natural and inevitable to so many of us to have giant pipelines crisscrossing our nation, threatening the life and resources of large populations when, not if, they leak or burst? Robert Kennedy Jr. hits the point directly in calling this a “battle between the old energy economy and the new”.
“The only way the carbon cronies can keep their domination of the marketplace is by constructing a lot of infrastructure so that we are invested. The people who invested, Citibank, Wells Fargo, and the pension funds who invested in this pipeline now have to see oil going through this pipeline for years, even long after any justification for big oil is long gone.
And of course, we’re not going to buy it in this country because we’re going to be switching to wind and solar and electric cars. They’re trying to build the infrastructure that allows them to sell it to poorer countries to continue polluting the globe, and that doesn’t make sense for anybody.”
I’ll save the fuller discussion about the resistance against and viability of alternative and renewable energies for another post, but make no mistake, that is the battle being fought right now in North Dakota.
Standing Rock: What can we do?
As I said at the outset, many of us are wondering what we can to help and affect change in the #NoDAPL cause.
First and foremost, we can stay informed. Information is Power, and misleading narratives and a waning public attention span are the tools of the oppressor. So find sources that you trust, sources that deliver measured, fact-based, important reporting where our mainstream media has failed us, and keep yourself continuously informed on one of the most important issues of our time happening right now. And don’t just accept what you read, fact-check and read second sources. Educate yourself on the complicated issues at play in this conflict, and what’s truly at stake. Allow your flames to be stoked for justice and for truth, not simply for partisan politics.
Here are just a few of the sources I’ve been following for information on Standing Rock:
In addition, read the accounts of those who have journeyed to Standing Rock to see and experience the event firsthand such as rapper Vic Mensa and Wisconsin basketball player Bronson Koenig.
Secondly, you can directly contribute goods and resources to the water protectors’ effort, though in light of the $1000 fine on all vehicles headed into the restricted area that has been threatened to accompany the Governor’s evacuation mandate there have reports of orders not being delivered. (My Amazon order, for instance, has been inexplicably delayed for 2 days.) Our good friends at Dark Matter have been running a GoFundMe drive, with a list of supplies to be purchased and sent to Standing Rock. There is also an Amazon gift registry:
I just visited the @StandingRock gift registry.
Now they have a laptop, drone & a wind turbine.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) November 24, 2016
Thirdly, you can affect social protest with the tool most quickly felt by a corporation, your wallet. Close accounts from banks that invest in Dakota Access (Wells Fargo, Citizen’s Bank, CitiBank, US Bank, and 13 others). Or call them and demand that they divest from the company. A protest of Wells Fargo on Thursday, live-streamed by Unicorn Riot, was successful in getting the bank to agree to meet with the tribal elders about their concerns on the pipeline before the end of the calendar year.
Lastly, you can call your state senator or representative – by phone, emails and social media are easy to ignore – and tell him/her to push for the US government to act on behalf of the water protectors. The final construction, the easement needed to drill under the Missouri River, has been delayed by the Department of Justice until the environmental concerns have been addressed. Many, such as Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, are calling on President Obama to deny this final permit, which could prove to be a key disruption when a subsequent environmental review is actually conducted. Urge your elected representatives to involve themselves in this important social and political issue. It is their job.
Standing Rock: Mni Wiconi
Struggles against oppression, for equality, against corporate greed, for environmental protection are often intentionally hidden from the eyes of the public to protect the interests of those who would benefit. Rarely are the circumstances so graphic and polaric as they are in Standing Rock, putting on clear display our national priorities and our willingness to attack and destroy in the name of profit. It remains to be seen if this matter can be won in a court of law. Based on Article 11 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, necessitating the Sioux allow the construction of utilities through their land, will a judge ultimately side with the Tribe? Can the oil pipeline actually be designated as a “necessary utility” as defined in the second Treaty? If we were bottling Lake Tahoe and selling it to France, we wouldn’t call the delivery trucks for that company a utility, would we? And will the environmental concerns be taken seriously by enough members of our government to halt the construction altogether?
Energy Transfer Partners had promised that the pipeline would be completed and running on January 1, 2017, and have pre-sold many lucrative contracts based on that date. If the construction can be successfully stopped or delayed, can the subsequent defaulted contracts create a financial impact that is debilitating enough?
Despite Monday’s deadline for mandatory evacuation, “self-deployed” veterans began arriving at Standing Rock on Thursday night to aid and guard the water protectors, with their numbers expected to reach as many as 6000. Snow now covers the ground where these noble soldiers join hands with Original Americans and US citizens alike in a fight against oligarchy and corporate greed. As the Standing Rock movement continues to boldly grow in the face of a harsh Midwest winter, we are reminded that this conflict is far from over. Where will we be standing when the thaw of spring breaks across the North Dakota plains? Who and what will we have chosen to protect?