The center of the resistance movement is now in North Dakota, where the security state has escalated the conflict with the Water Protectors of the #NoDAPL campaign to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. By supporting the Water Protectors, we will not only strengthen them, we will strengthen ourselves and learn great lessons.
Indigenous Face Militarized Attack
Once again, as has happened repeatedly over hundreds of years of struggle by Indigenous Peoples, the United States is using a militarized response against people seeking to protect the land and water and standing up for their human rights and justice. The militarized police are collaborating with oil companies and Indigenous people are having their civil rights trampled.
The Water Protectors wrote the Department of Justice telling them about Indigenous drivers being harassed, the police conducting intrusive strip searches for minor offenses like trespass, the use of unlicensed guard dogs against protesters, as well as the use of military vehicles and militarized law enforcement. As Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault wrote “rather than seeking to keep the peace, law enforcement personnel are clearly working in tandem with private security of Dakota Access”who are escalating the conflict with peaceful water protectors.
Extreme police action has escalated. Since the tribes wrote DOJ, militarized police have been brought in from five states, have shot horses with rubber bullets, used sonic weaponry, pepper spray and have made mass arrests. They are holding people in dog cages. Since August, 400 people have been arrested with 142 of them since last Thursday. The resisters were pushed back from private land, which they view as land the tribes never ceded and sacred land containing burial grounds of great spiritual importance.
Reporters doing their job as members of the media to describe what is happening in North Dakota have been arrested. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! was charged with inciting a riot, but attention brought to the case and her willingness to fight the charges resulted in the prosecution being dropped. Documentary filmmaker, Deia Schlosberg, was also arrested while filming a documentary, and is facing felony charges that could bring her 45 years of incarceration.
President Obama has remained silent in response to these abuses, as has the Department of Justice, but Amnesty International has responded and is sending human rights observers to North Dakota. AIUSA has been in close contact with both the Water Protectors and police forces and plans to call on the Department of Justice to investigate the methods police are using to handle peaceful protesters.
Hillary Clinton was also the focus of protests. Allies in New York created a drum circle and put a teepee up in the middle of Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters in Brooklyn while other campaign offices were protested as well. She put out a statement that took both sides at the same time and stood for nothing. Her concluding line revealed her failure to take any stand, saying, “It’s important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.” Hmm – protest but let the pipeline be built. Which side is she on?
Trump is even worse as he has investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline and seeks to profit from stealing Indigenous land, polluting the environment and worsening climate change.
Libertarian Gary Johnson has said he does not know the details about the pipeline but he generally favors property rights and opposes eminent domain.
Only Green candidates Jill Stein and her vice president, Ajamu Baraka, have called for a halt to the pipeline and joined a protest against it. There is an arrest warrant out for both of them for spray painting messages in support of the Water Protectors. They have condemned the police action, called for recognition of treaty rights and urged people to stand with the Water Protectors.
Not Going Anywhere
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a member of the Standing Rock tribe and a camp founder, said in a recent interview. “We have been here for thousands of years. We’re not going anywhere.”
In fact hundreds of tribes have joined in unity in the campaign to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Phil McKenna who recently visited the encampment wrote that this pipeline is not unique, “I found nearly everyone living in it had a tale of how government, industry or utility companies had encroached on, polluted, or otherwise desecrated their ancestral lands. Collectively, they’d had enough and Standing Rock was their line in the prairie grass.”
The Water Protectors are planning for winter, which is long and cold in North Dakota. There are no trees to break the wind and temperatures dip south of minus 40 Fahrenheit, and entire weeks pass with daily highs stuck below zero.
In preparation, they are stacking piles of wood, large tents have been delivered, a cellphone booster is planned to allow protectors and journalists to communicate with the outside world, gas generators are being replaced with solar panels, traditional earth lodges are being planned, and they are bringing in mobile indoor shower stations. This week actor Mark Ruffalo delivered solar panels to the encampment.
The Red Warrior Sioux are asking for donations to keep their encampment going. Here is an official donation site. In addition, they want communities to organize to come to North Dakota as well as to take action in their own communities to support the Water Protectors.
This fight is one that impacts us all whether it is the water we drink, the air we breathe or the climate we live in. It is also a conflict of people vs. corporate profits. Once again, if the movement unites, people power can defeat corporate power.
An Educational Opportunity
Beyond direct help for the encampment and organizing at home, the #NoDAPL protests are an opportunity for each of us to become more educated about the need to end colonialism. Colonialism remains an issue in the United States as well as in many places around the world and impacts the way people understand injustice.
Colonial mentality impacts many of our struggles over environmental degradation, racism, climate change, labor and worker’s rights, LGBTQ issues, militarism, food justice and the unfair economy. The deep roots of many injustices go back to the mentality of colonialism and colonizer’s efforts to dominate peoples of the world.
This is also a moment to uproot pernicious myths about Indigenous Peoples that have developed over hundreds of years of subjugation. The United States has engaged in ethnic cleansing of Indigenous Peoples and that type of slaughter, mistreatment and stealing of lands cannot occur unless the victims are turned into something less than human. Images in the media and in movies, as well as mascots of sports teams, perpetuate those myths.
Standing with the Water Protectors is an opportunity for each of us to take the time to undo those myths and expose people we know to the truth. The reality is that the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples continues and the placement of a pipeline through their lands, through sacred places where their ancestors are buried without their consultation is one example of many of continuing colonialism.
Stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline is one of many struggles Indigenous Peoples are fighting all over the world to protect their land and the environment, their ancestry and language, their legal and political rights, and their basic right to exist. These issues are all connected and should be central to the popular movement for economic, racial and environmental justice as well as for peace that we are all building.
Too often in the glare of other battles for justice, we lose sight of Indigenous struggles. Black Lives Matter focuses much needed attention on the widespread killings and abuse suffered by African Americans at the hands of police. Rarely mentioned is that Indigenous people are more likely to be killed by police than any group, including African Americans. According to CDC data from 1999 to 2014 the Indigenous are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. Statistics on poverty, education, unemployment, income, wealth, alcoholism and drug addiction show a group of people dominated by white America for hundreds of years who suffer at the bottom of so many measures.
The #NoDAPL Protests Can Teach So Much, Encourage Deep Resistance
While the connections between the Dakota Access Pipeline and its poisoning of the Missouri River and the lands around it as well as its connection to climate change are obvious, there are other connections. Four Arrows, a member of Voters for Peace, writes that at the encampment a story was told about how the pipeline constructors poisoned the prairie dogs that were in the path of the pipeline and how this led to the tragic deaths of the eagles who feed upon them and to at least seven buffalo who grazed from grasses in the poisoned dirt. We are all connected, sometimes in ways we do not at first understand.
The ongoing campaigns throughout the country to stop construction of pipelines, compressor stations, export terminals and other carbon infrastructure have often been led by Indigenous Peoples. Carbon energy profiteers are having a harder time getting their infrastructure put in place because people are standing up.
This month Royal Dutch Shell, backed out of a plan to build an oil train terminal in Washington State. City planners in San Luis Obispo rejected a proposed rail terminal that would service a Phillips 66 refinery in central California. Another oil train terminal met defeat in Benicia, CA. The U.S Surface Transportation Board, a federal rail regulator, affirmed Benicia’s right to reject the terminal, granting local communities more power to deny permits for energy infrastructure and raising an alarm bell for energy developers around the country.
One year ago a survey of the gas industry found the number one problem in getting carbon infrastructure in place is the organized opposition of people and communities. Since then opposition has grown, become more organized and more aggressive.
One reason why the efforts to stop carbon infrastructure are successful is because they are ongoing campaigns that build, provide opportunities for people to join, escalate and be persistent. It is campaigns, not one major protest, that win. The climate justice movement has learned that lesson and is practicing it throughout the country.
As we campaign to transform the economy to a clean energy economy and end the era of carbon and nuclear energy, we can learn from our Indigenous brothers and sisters and remember our place in the natural order, putting aside the idea that humans are at the center of the environment and realizing we are only one part of it.
One of the most important lessons from the Indigenous that we should embed into our decision-making is that we are not only making decisions for ourselves. Not only is everything connected in the present tense, but their ancient wisdom teaches that people should consider the seventh generation in all decisions. There is so much wisdom, so often ignored, in people whom colonization has diminished and sought to destroy.
Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
Chief Seattle, 1854