Thursday, September 8, 2016

An Old, Old Story—Dealing Illegally and in Bad Faith with America's Indigenous People

Near the Cannonball River in North Dakota just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, over 3,000 people are gathered from Indigenous nations all over the United States to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (a kind of stealth or back-door Keystone XL Pipeline approved under a “fast track” option that didn't require the scrutiny Keystone had undergone) from destroying tribal burial grounds and sacred sites and from crossing the Missouri River, endangering the source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and for millions of other Americans downstream.

The land the pipeline is scheduled to cross is ancestral land of the Standing Rock Sioux, taken from them in the 20th century in violation of U.S. treaties with the Standing Rock nation. When they went to federal court in 1980 over this and other land depredations, the judge said, “A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.” President Obama, when questioned about the DAPL situation at a university in Laos this week, said, “...the way that Native Americans were treated was tragic. … This issue of ancestral lands and helping them preserve their way of life is something that we have worked very hard on.” He did not, unfortunately, answer the question he was asked about the situation of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The elders, who are the leaders of the Standing Stone camp in resistance to the DAPL (as is customary among most Native nations), issued this statement:

With over 200 river crossings the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline puts the drinking water supply of a large part of the country at risk. Our prayer is to keep the waters pure for all tribal peoples and all Americans.

We pray for the waters used by farmers in Iowa and Illinois, the water consumed by schoolchildren in South Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

Millions of Americans get their drinking water from this system.

We are Protectors not Protesters. Our camp is a prayer, for our children, our elders and ancestors, and for the creatures, and the land and habitat they depend on, who cannot speak for themselves.

We wish the Army Corps had done their job in protecting federally administered lands, unceded Indian lands, and Tribal lands, relying on science and judgement in protecting Indian culture from construction. Whether by intention or omission, the Army Corps broke federal laws, and didn’t do their job.”

The pipeline was originally slated to run past Bismarck, North Dakota, at a distance of 15 miles from the city, but there was outcry that the state capitol's drinking water might be endangered by a leak or break in the 1,100-mile pipeline. Thus, it was shifted to run within half a mile of the Standing Rock reservation. As Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, told CNN, whenever the United States wants to make sacrifices for economic purposes, it tends to do so on the backs of its Indigenous people, and this longstanding history of economic decision-making at the expense of Natives must stop.

After a federal court injunction to stop construction until the matter could be litigated and the day after the tribe's lawyers filed additional papers in court with information of sacred sites and burial sites along the pipeline path, DAPL sent work crews on a holiday weekend with three bulldozers to dig up those sites and destroy them in order to make them irrelevant to the case. As the gathered Natives tried to block them from digging up and destroying their relatives' graves, a private security company hired by DAPL blocked all cell phone reception to keep word from getting out and then assaulted them with pepper spray and attack dogs. Several protesters were bitten, including a pregnant woman, and one was hospitalized with facial dog bites. Amy Goodman and Democracy Now were in the camp interviewing its members and caught the entire event on camera (see link below), including dogs with bloody mouths after biting Natives, which is probably the only reason the security guards finally left and didn't cause even more injuries. It becomes apparent from this and from the sheriff's statement afterward that the camp attacked the security guards and dogs, injuring them, (when the sheriff was not on the scene at the time) that neither DAPL nor the local authorities are dealing in good faith or legality.

This is national news of great importance, but until the past two days, this defense of sacred lands and waters, which has lasted for months, was paid no attention by the national news media, although multiple major international media outlets stayed on top of it and broadcast/wrote about it for their audiences around the world. It's an old, old story, however—U.S. government and private corporations deal in bad faith and illegally with Indigenous nations. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, land theft, you name it—this treatment of its Indigenous people by a country that claims to be a shining city of virtue and fairness on a hill above all others as an example to the world is, with slavery and its modern results, as well, hiding dark, shameful roots.

When racist trolls at public events and online tell us to “get over it,” this is why we can't. It's still going on, still happening to our people—even today when Americans say, “That was our ancestors, not us. We would never do that.” To all those Americans, I say this, “If you allow this corporation and your government to do this today, you are still doing what your ancestors did to the Indigenous people whose land you live on and work on today.”


  1. It seemed needed. I haven't seen anyone say, "Hey, you say you wouldn't have done this to us, but here it is and yes, you're doing it still." I was so disappointed with POTUS' reply to that question about it--"All that stuff happened in the past, but we don't do that anymore." Not true, at all.

  2. I'm sorry to say I wasn't aware of this situation until I read your blog. I grateful to you for writing it.

  3. The good news, Rosemary, is that, although the judge unbelievably ruled against the tribe, the US government (DOJ, DOI, DOA) declared a halt to construction until there was time to consider the environmental impact and the sacred sites. Temporary, but we'll take it for now. No one will be leaving the camps, however. They're all in for the long haul, and the rest of us around the country who can't join them are so grateful to and proud of all our relatives out there.