Mark Sundeen at Outside Online has a long, in-depth, excellent story about the camps and the Standing Rock protest. I’m only going to include a small amount here, you should really click over and read, it’s great!
…I parked alongside a towering teepee on the riverbank, slept in the car, and in the morning met my neighbors, a delegation of Pawnee elders who had driven 18 hours from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The degree to which I didn’t know what I was getting myself into was made clear when Chief Morgan LittleSun, 58, a warm and affable welder and teepee builder, told me that his biggest concern coming up here wasn’t cops—it was the Sioux tribes.
“Pawnee and Sioux hated each other forever,” he said. Even though the tribes had signed a peace treaty, LittleSun had seen hostility at powwows, and even fights.
I asked when the Pawnee and Sioux tribes had made this uneasy peace.
“150 years ago.”
As far as LittleSun knew, this was the first time since then that Pawnee chiefs had traveled this far into Sioux territory. While dates of Indian wars and treaties are history-test minutiae that most white people (like me) tend to forget, LittleSun was one of many Native Americans I met for whom the past was not really dead, as the saying goes, not even past. They rattled off these 19th-century events like they happened yesterday, and this gathering at Standing Rock was occasion for a new round of history making. The site was called Seven Councils Camp, indicating the first time all bands of Lakota had gathered in one place in more than a century. That afternoon, the Crow Nation marched into camp in war bonnets, waving flags, singing and whooping, bearing a peace pipe and a load of buffalo meat, offering the first real reconciliation since 1876, when Crows were scouts for Custer at Little Bighorn, where the U.S Cavalry got its ever-loving ass kicked by the Lakota. At last count, representatives from more than 120 tribal nations had arrived from as far as Hawaii, Maine, California, and Mississippi.
But when I asked LittleSun, whose tribe historically had a proud tradition of stealing horses, if he’d felt uneasy here, he shook his head emphatically, and a smile spread over his face. “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. All day long, strangers walked into his camp and offered food and firewood and asked which tribe he belonged to, and when he told them, they didn’t flinch but embraced him as a brother, an uncle, an elder. “But when I raised the Pawnee flag on a pole,” LittleSun added with a laugh, “everyone moved their horses to the other side of camp!”
This is something most people don’t understand. For many Indigenous peoples, history is not old, dusty past, something to be discarded, forgotten with maybe a trip or two back for reference. History is living, it’s a thread of continuity, of stories, of life, of connectedness. Time is all one flow, and if you drop a big ol’ dam down, you lose so much, you cut yourself off, isolating yourself. And yes, of course, in these current times, there’s a need to chop time up into tiny compartments now and then, but if you’re not careful, you do that with all time, and it’s a painful loss, even if you aren’t terribly aware of that right now.
…I met Nick Estes, a Lower Brule Sioux from South Dakota who remembered that when he was a child, his grandparents told stories about the wonderful Missouri River. “But after the 1940s, the stories stopped.” The Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program authorized nine dams—five on Indian land, displacing those who lived along the banks. Standing Rock lost 55,000 acres, while adjacent Cheyenne River Reservation lost 150,000 acres.
“If Dakota Access kills this river,” said Estes, “it will be its second death.”
According to historian Michael Lawson, author of Dammed Indians, “The Oahe Dam destroyed more Indian land than any other public works project in America.” Estes said his elders “died of heartache.”
The Oahe Dam is still a very raw and painful event. The land which was stolen, again, was lush and fertile, the best farm land of this particular area. ‘Lake’ Oahe is now generally stuffed with sport fisherman and boats of all kinds, because of course, that’s better for some reason.
Indian nations, with their ample resources and limited political power, have often borne the brunt of resource extraction. For the Lakota, the “Black Snake,” as many call the Dakota Pipeline, feels like just one more case of whittling away of their land—which is to say, breaking their treaties. And Indians can’t help but notice that although the reason they keep getting screwed is never acknowledged to be racism, the victims of the various ecological catastrophes through the decades are often members of their race. Between dams, toxic dumps, fracking, oil spills, and atomic bomb tests, the list of injustices against native communities could fill pages.
In 2014, the proposed route of DAPL went through Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, with roughly 61,000 residents, 92 percent of them white. After the Corps determined that the pipeline could contaminate drinking water, it was rerouted to pass by Standing Rock. “That’s environmental racism,” said Kandi Mossett, of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota and an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Truth. Especially now, you see more and more that some countries are waking up and realizing they have truly screwed things the fuck up, and are attempting various fixes. Unfortunately, it’s Indigenous people who are expected to pay for problems they did not create. A dam project in Brazil has been stopped by Indigenous people, and rightly so. It’s beyond tiring trying to explain that no, we are not standing in the way. If that dam is so very important, why is it always poised to wipe out Indigenous land? If it’s that important, no, aim it at your own land, you can find something else, right? You can make do with less, and it’s not a big deal, stealing land from under people again. In the case of zuzeca sapa here, as has been pointed out a million times, the original plan called for it to run by Bismarck, but white people found that distressing, that their water might get poisoned, so what’s the solution? Oh, look, Indians – we can put it there! It’s not okay to make us keep on paying for colonial greed and mistakes:
“When we need help, they say we are sovereign,” said Mossett. “But when it comes to development of our resources—oil, gas, coal, uranium, water—then they step in see how much money the state can get.”
…Perhaps the most startling idea to emerge is a full upending of the narrative of the benevolent—perhaps paternalistic—white liberal uplifting the oppressed minority. People I met here felt that white people had strayed so far from their spiritual core that it was the Indian who would have to rescue them. A Pawnee hip-hop artist who calls himself Quese IMC (born Marcus Frejo Little Eagle), with black beard, hoop earrings, thick-rimmed glasses, and a cocked ball cap, told me that both racism and exploitation of the earth came from the same sickness: a lack of spirituality, which breeds a lack of compassion for other beings. “The earth is a spirit, the water is a spirit, and if you have no spirit, and you have no connection to those things, it will be easy to destroy them and not even care.”
When I asked Chief LittleSun what was so great about the gathering, he said, “The spiritual part of this movement. This ground is the holiest place on earth right now.” This was the first time in his entire life that he’d taken part in any sort of protest or movement. I asked if he considered himself an environmentalist. LittleSun shook his head. “I don’t even know what that is.” It was as if I’d asked him if he were if a “skin-ist” or a “body-ist.” He simply didn’t think of himself as an entity separate from the earth.
I know this is the most difficult part for many people, especially readers here, to take and understand. This is very much an indigenous viewpoint though, and it’s important for people to at least try and understand. I’ve heard plenty of hurtful things about this particular issue, and I might not be the best one to explain, but I’ll try. I know people roll their eyes, shake their heads, thinking it’s stupid, unenlightened silliness, new age woo. It isn’t. If anything, this sense is very old age indeed. I’m reminded of Nnedi Okorafor’s dedication in Lagoon: “To the diverse and dynamic people of Lagos, Nigeria – Animals, Plants, and Spirit.” That’s it right there – we’re all the same, we’re all alive, we’re all connected, and we are all important. When you start disconnecting, one thing from another, then another, then another, you lose. You lose everything, you keep whittling down until the list of “important” is very tiny, and you find yourself severed from the connection to all things.
English is very lousy language when it comes to translation. Often, the closest word, like sacred, is already so pre-loaded with Western concept baggage that it’s useless in any attempt to explain an indigenous concept, and people who want no truck with religion sigh when they hear that, and slam their minds shut. Various Indigenous beliefs are deeply personal, and often about protection and responsibility, including a responsibility to protect our earth, and all that is on it. That’s more what an Indian means when they use the word sacred, rather than the Western meaning, even though that’s a seriously light weight explanation. Indians aren’t going around proselytizing, we aren’t looking for converts. It’s difficult enough to stop people from learning just enough to become a plastic shaman in order to con people. The spirituality is in fulfilling our purpose, to protect our earth, the mother who nourishes all of us. The spirituality is in being connected to all beings. The spirituality is in allowing the flow of time to be whole. We aren’t to be pitied for these beliefs, these are traditions and ceremonies which keep us connected back through time and history. Now, I’ve probably done my usual really bad job explaining here, so I’ll stop before I make it worse. I’ll be out at the camps on Wednesday or Thursday this week, and I can’t wait. I can feel the call of the people, of the earth. I just want to sit, to be.
Click over and read Mark Sundeen’s story, it’s a wonderful read, and I really appreciate his writing the story. http://www.outsideonline.com/2111206/whats-happening-standing-rock