We Stand With Standing Rock
The Dakota Access Pipeline must be stopped. DAPL poses a grave threat to the environment. Pipelines spill. Over the past 30 years, accidents involving pipelines have spilled an average of 200 barrels per DAY! When pipelines spill, it is impossible to clean up every bit of oil; what is left poisons the water and land. The planned route of the Dakota Access Pipeline crosses 209 waterways, including the Missouri River. The Missouri River feeds into the Mississippi, which provides drinking water for 10 million people. The pipeline will go within a half mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation, and directly threatens their sole water source. DAPL will also cross through forests and active farmland, putting our food and our planet at risk. In addition to the environmental risks, construction of the pipeline will disturb ancestral Native American burial grounds and sacred lands; tragically, important archeological sites have already been destroyed. This is why tens of thousands of protesters from around the world are standing up to say #NoDAPL.
Native Americans from hundreds of tribes, progressives, liberals and environmentalists are coming together to fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other activists began camping out to protect the Earth against DAPL this past spring, before the Army Corps of Engineers granted the permits for the pipeline. Now, thousands of people have travelled to North Dakota to protect the land and water. Additionally, there have been hundreds of rallies and actions, worldwide. Bernie Sanders organized and spoke at a rally outside of the White House and was the first national politician to support the movement. Our efforts are paying off; on September 9th, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement to temporarily stop work near Lake Oahe and Standing Rock. However, this is not enough; we need a permanent stop to the entire project. We must redouble our efforts and stop this disastrous pipeline entirely.
We are going to give you a closer look at several aspects of the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The way that Native American tribes have banded together to protect the land is historic. In order to understand it, we must explore the history of the area and the way that the U.S. has treated Native Americans in the past. We will also cover the events of September third, when private security forces assaulted protesters with pepper spray and attack dogs. We had the honor of interviewing Reyna Crow, who was there that day and who has been very active in the movement against DAPL. Reyna is an organizer for Idle No More Duluth (you can request access), a movement that is made up of both tribal and non-tribal people who work on a grassroots level to promote Indigenous sovereignty and to protect land and water. Idle No More was founded by 4 women (3 tribal, 1 not) from Canada in around late November of 2012; the first event in Duluth for Idle No More was on December 22, 2012. We will then end with a look forward at where we can go from here and the lessons we can learn from what has happened.
Tribes Standing Together Against DAPL
“a delegation from the Crow nation arrived from Montana, bearing offerings of firewood and 700lb of buffalo meat. That’s truly historic: the Crow and the Lakota have been enemies for more than a century."
When #NoDAPL burst into the national consciousness, Native Americans from across the U.S. had already unified with the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. History continued unfolding before our eyes. Representatives of nearly 300 Native American tribes and nations joined the actions and performed unified rituals to signify their union. Traditional enemies, like the Sioux and the Crow Tribes became allies “a delegation from the Crow nation arrived from Montana, bearing offerings of firewood and 700lb of buffalo meat. That’s truly historic: the Crow and the Lakota have been enemies for more than a century." Also among the supportive Indigenous nation members, was a Menominee Warrior who fought a prior generation’s battle, the Restoration of the Menominee Reservation, against the United States government.
Other tribes and nations who joined the protectors included: Anishinabe from Couchiching First Nation, Cheyenne River Lakota, Rosebud Sioux, Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, Oglala Lakota, Hualapai Indian Tribe, Yakama Nation, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Navajo Nation, Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho and Comanche Nation. Thousands pledged their solidarity, sung honor songs and sent supplies. But they were not alone. Americans from all backgrounds and internationals also traveled to Standing Rock; Native Hawaiians, Black Lives Matter members, Aztecs and Native Ecuadorians made the journey.
Although the movement started with 15 people, it grew to thousands strong. Why did this pipeline resistance inspire such unprecedented support? Our indigenous populations’ tragic history and thousands of individual stories laid the foundation.
Environmental and Historical Racism
Energy Transfer Partners originally planned a pipeline route near Bismarck. Quickly though, the company reversed course. Bismarck's people feared contamination of their water supply. ETP rerouted the pipeline to near the poverty-stricken Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and its watershed. Kandi Mossett, “an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network,” characterized this decision as “environmental racism.” The decision echoed historic promises broken and treaties unhonored.
America started building the Oahe Dam in the 1940s. Breaking its own treaty, the U.S. flooded over 55,000 acres of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation land. Bismarck would get the water. The reservation, whose life and livelihood centered around the river, would not. The consequences for the Standing Rock Sioux were devastating. Our government used eminent domain to displace whole families from their homes. Attempting to “assimilate” native children, government and religious institutions sent children to live with Mormon families and to boarding schools. With these decisions, the U.S. tried to erase a native community and culture. The effects remain until today. This year, the U.S. subverted its own environmental policies, ETP (a private company) exercised eminent domain to build the Iowa portion of the DAPL, and once more, the reservation’s water needs came dead last, along the way. Historic echoes lit the spark for #NoDAPL.
Hearing the Injustices Against Native Americans
In decades gone, Americans didn’t listen to the pain we created. In 2016, because of the Dakota Access pipeline protectors, we are finally starting to hear these injustices. “Hello my friends...I ask you to listen to me with patience,” [vimeo id="183394751" width="600" height="350" autoplay="no" api_params="" class=""]says Terry Yellowfat, a member of Húŋkpapȟa Nation, (one of the seven tribal divisions of the Teton Sioux), originally in South Dakota. In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers continued to build dams along the Missouri River, each built on or near Native American land. Yellowfat was only a boy, then. “Little did we know, it would drastically change how we lived...it was pretty much move or else.” Emotions still overcome Yellowfat when he recounts how the government destroyed his community, “They uprooted us from a happy life. While we were standing there, not just my family, many families, and the only thing that we owned were log homes. They burnt them in front of us. Old people, young people, children, such as me, were crying. That’s all we had. I remember my grandfather asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘So, none of you will move back in them. You go where we want you to go, above the flood line." Today, Terry Yellowfat’s family once again lives along the Missouri River. None of them want this pipeline. They know it’s a matter of when, not if, the pipeline will break. The family now has a future and dreams. They survived, and their culture, though torn, survived with them. This is just one story that built the #NoDAPL movement. This time, we must listen and act.
Water Is Life
Mni wiconi: a Lakota phrase that means water is life and #NoDAPL’s motto. A single drop of water contains thousands of organisms. On a microscopic level, water is indeed life; on a larger level, water also represents the value our government places on each life. Bismarck, now a wealthy town, with mansions along the Missouri River, flourished due to federal decisions and broken treaties. In contrast, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation subsists in poverty and neglect. Decisions about who was worthy of water, formed the seeds of the NoDAPL movement. This history and hard organizational work led to today’s unprecedented solidarity. Reyna Crow described a key motivational moment for us, “...the organizers issued a clear call letting people know exactly what they wanted people...to do, [that] helped a lot to manifest the solidarity I suspect many felt in their hearts into an on the ground presence...That was really what motivated me to go, I was trying to help with supplies, but at a point I heard, ‘come here now, if you can,’ and it turned out I could, so I did.”
[youtube id="3Z1v1t-PPeo" width="600" height="350" autoplay="no" api_params="" class=""]
Heeding the Call
The call from the organizers perhaps echoed the call from an Oglala Lakota chief who led tribes to victory at Little Bighorn in 1876. He prophesied, “...a seventh generation would wake up and rise — a generation that would lead the healing and restoration of the planet, rejuvenate a forgotten spirituality, and create harmony among people of all colors and creeds.” Reyna answered the call on September 2nd. She traveled to Standing Rock with Idle No More Duluth and Idle No More Minnesota. Reyna felt it was important to gather info for reporters who couldn’t be there.
“I was processing the intense emotions that the commemoration stirred..."
On September 3rd, the group gathered with others from the Standing Rock camp for the commemoration of the 153rd anniversary of the Whitestone Hill Massacre. Reyna continues, “Once all were gathered, we were told the story and prayers were said, more than a few tears shed.” “I was processing the intense emotions that the commemoration stirred...[The] mood was peaceful, people were connecting with those they hadn’t seen in awhile, meeting new friends, and bumping into neighbors. Then I noticed sudden activity on what I think was the west side of the road, I saw that there were people, women mostly it seemed, and some young folks, going across the fence and also noticed for the first time, trucks and workers appearing to have been digging.”
The Digging and the Dogs
Reyna continues with what happened, next, “I was upset, to see that digging in the immediate aftermath of the observance of the massacre. [It] was overwhelming and jarring. I heard yelling and smelled damp earth, I couldn’t see how much had been dug, but it was clear they’d been busy. I was trying to keep an eye for elders, and people with kids and following the Crow [Nation] back into the site to see what was going on, over a ridge we soon came to.”
[youtube id="3-zxeTZL6B0" width="500" height="250" autoplay="no" api_params="" class=""]
The group saw what they thought were DAPL workers “in a line.” They would find out only later, that these were private security guards and that the digging intentionally destroyed sacred burial sites. Reyna could see, “about 7 with dogs [who] were clearly upset and confused. Those ‘handling’ the dogs did not seem to have any control over them and seemed confused themselves.”
Instinctively, Reyna felt, “even more protective of those around [her] and [of] the site. After the massacre [commemoration,] “this was obscene on so many levels, and to be threatened with attack dogs was beyond belief, the shock of them even being there still fresh.”
The Pepper Spray
Caught up in the events, Reyna didn’t realize that the guards, “had been misting [them]...the whole time.” “I followed a call from a woman to link arms, we walked forward together far enough for me to see that a young man who’d been ahead had been sprayed a great deal. Seems our mere presence and refusal to retreat led to that.”
Democracy Now captured the moments when fellow protectors were flushing the spray out of Reyna’s eyes (5:02). Fortunately, one tribal member had baby wipes that prevented Reyna from feeling “the worst of the pain.” “It seemed like the oil in the wipes did help break down whatever they sprayed a bit helping me get to the hotel to shower.” It was only later that she realized, “...how much had been sprayed on [her].” “I think because of my bangs and glasses [kept] much of it out of my eyes at first.” “[When] I was trying to wash it out of my hair, I had to lather 3 or 4 times before what I was rinsing out stopped burning. It stung my eyes and my skin, and you really can’t wipe it off, attempting to do so seems to make it worse.”
“I was alarmed because it seemed that the young man I mentioned was at real serious risk, his face seemed very red and his eyes appeared to be weeping but not tears, something white.”
“I was very scared for those who took a lot more of that spray than I did.”
The Dog Bites
“As for the dogs and the dog bites, I was close to the dogs until it seemed we’d confirmed that the workers would leave if we’d clear the way, by which time my eyes and face were burning pretty good and by then the dogs were really out of control it seemed, rushing people, but I wasn’t close enough to hear any commands.” Reyna left when it seemed to her that they’d, “...driven them out for the day.”
“I only learned that people had been bitten later.”
The Effect of the Attack on Reyna
“The attack by the security people, and the dig itself really struck me as contemptuous not just of those human beings who at worst were engaging in [nonviolent] civil disobedience (though I don’t know how a tribal member could be guilty of ‘trespass’ on their ancestor’s graves), but of the legal process and the letter and spirit of the law itself.”
“This showed me that the dishonorable way the United, and individual states [have] behaved with respect to Indigenous nations and people is not a thing of the past, it made me angry to think that the only reason the dogs weren’t loosed immediately was the fact that so many had cameras, and maybe because a reporter was there. I felt the whole time that were there not eyes on us, it would have been far, far worse.”
“[It] was heartbreaking, and shocking to others too, but I need to note that not one person took one step back from the dogs and mace or whatever it was. I don’t think this discouraged anyone from their commitment to protect their water, ancestors and children, and it only made me feel more determined to help as I can, if and when asked by the people.”
Emotional Impact of Being at Standing Rock on September 3rd
“On one hand, very sad. Very ashamed of being a citizen of the United States in 2016 when we see not only the manifestation of the same contempt for not just a burial site, but the letter and spirit of its own laws (the Clean Water Act and the Historic Preservation Act) and the treaties with other sovereign nations. On the other, incredibly hopeful[,] this is [an] historic event, whatever happens with DAPL, this is a turning point in history due to the unity and solidarity of so many Indigenous nations, and their being in the lead with non-tribal people supporting. This seems the way it needs to be.”
It turned out that Reyna had been there to cover what few reporters witnessed. Her testimony is in, itself, a piece of history. As important as September 3rd’s events were, though, Reyna emphasized, “The main thing I want people to remember is that [though] the one hour during which this violence from DAPL to the earth and the security people to the protectors,” may be, “...a turning point in that DAPL sure seems to have triggered [an] outrage factor towards itself, and rightly so,” this, “...should not overshadow the beauty and cooperation, the incredible things being created for the good of all, at the camp.”
Looking Forward. What #NoDAPL Taught Us
The lessons of DAPL’s environmental racism, the call of the 7th generation, the events of September 3rd and the unification of Indigenous people are deep, painful and yet hopeful. It is vital to tell the stories of what happened, both this year and in the past. But, it is equally important to speak of the beautiful things that this movement created.
Native Americans and Americans of all ethnicities created a powerful force to combat a grave environmental injustice. On September 26th, President Obama recognized this struggle at the White House, “together, you’re making your voices heard.” In a historic step, the Obama administration initiated “government-to-government consultations” on how federal infrastructure projects can integrate timely tribal input. At Standing Rock, Indigenous tribes and nations are unified in the greatest numbers in 100 years. This movement is teaching and training an indigenous alliance to fight the next three proposed pipelines and ongoing injustices. People whose culture our country tried to erase, have returned to their traditions, food, songs and way of life, at the Sacred Stone, Oceti Sakowin and Red Warrior camps. #NoDAPL taught us about history, resilience and renewal.
“We don’t need guns, today. All we need is people. People are the strength.”
As the Menominee Warrior at Sacred Stone, an elder and a veteran, recognized. “We don’t need guns, today. All we need is people. People are the strength.”
Reyna described this determined strength behind the successes, so far. This organizational momentum propelled and inspired the people in the camp, the #NoDAPL movement, the Native American community and the environmental and progressive movements, as a whole. We have not won, yet, but this wisdom will be key in our struggle:
“I suspect that the widespread solidarity has a lot to do with the ongoing, grassroots organizing that has been done by several community members not just since April, when I believe people actually began camping, but for the last few years that people like Joye Braun of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have been resisting DAPL.”
...we need to learn to work in a circle again, in coalition, not hierarchy
“This is crucial for many reasons, one being that we need to learn to work in a circle again, in coalition, not hierarchy. At camp, everyone works together to meet the needs of the group, we need to pull together not work in separate silos, with duplicated, or worse, competing efforts. The more we can build coalitions, the more success we are going to enjoy.”