As I write, Bakken crude oil is moving through the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe Reservoir, crossing treaty lands and waters that the Sioux Nation never ceded to the United States Government.
This, after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline since it was proposed in 2014, with hundreds of other tribes making formal declarations in support of the tribe’s opposition. This, despite ongoing lawsuits. This, after a prayer camp begun by a small group of indigenous youth in April, 2016 grew to several camps with a total population at one point of close to 20,000. This, after 4,000 United States military veterans came to stand with the water protectors in December, 2016. This, after the United States Army Corps of Engineers under the Obama administration denied the easement to cross the river and legally bound themselves to conducting an environmental impact study that the Trump administration aborted. This, after countless unarmed water protectors faced attack dogs, mace, rubber bullets, water hoses turned on them in sub-freezing weather, and noise cannons. This, after the arrest of over seven hundred people (some charged with felonies and still awaiting trial) many of whom were strip-searched and held in kennels in an unheated parking garage. This, after hundreds of people camped all winter, surviving blizzards and bitter cold. This, after people remained standing in prayer until they were forcibly removed from the prayer camps on February 22nd, 2017.
I have had difficulty writing this post for a number of reasons. First, I am not an indigenous person, and Standing Rock is an indigenous-led movement. It is indigenous people whose tribal sovereignty has been violated at Standing Rock and elsewhere all over the world. (Note: I encourage FAR editors to seek out indigenous women to write for these pages.) Second, I visited Standing Rock for a few days only; many people made the camp their home for the duration. I cannot count myself as a water protector, but I want to be an ally. The people and the place took hold in my heart, and I have continued to follow the story/ies of Standing Rock daily, mostly on individual and group Facebook pages. There has been relatively little mainstream coverage of Standing Rock. A number of reporters have faced arrest. Still, despite attempts by the authorities to disrupt cell service, people on the ground managed to film and even livestream encounters with militarized police as they unfolded.
There are many stories of Standing Rock, as many as the people who were there. The stories will continue to be told. A new film AWAKE, A Dream from Standing Rock will livestream online on Earth Day, April 22. In preparing this post I watched a documentary about the International Indigenous Youth Council who sparked what has become a worldwide movement.
Until I became overwhelmed by the task, I had wanted to tell the story of Standing Rock as a Passion narrative. Passion in its original meaning: suffering, enduring. Passion as a courageous, chosen redemptive act. And also passion in its contemporary meaning: strong emotion and commitment. Passion for the water, passion for the earth, passion for justice. Commitment to protecting the water and the earth for all life for generations to come. Passion so strong that some people risked their livelihoods and their lives to make this stand.
It is important to remember that the story of Standing Rock has roots that reach back five hundred years to when Europeans first came to this hemisphere and began taking land and resources by any and every means. “This is nothing new for us.” (I am loosely paraphrasing what I remember from a video Interview with LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard, a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member who was instrumental in founding and fostering Sacred Stone Camp.) “Over and over our land has been stolen from us, treaties have been broken, we have been massacred, we have been forced into boarding schools where they tried to take our culture from us. Yet we have survived. We are still here. We are still standing. Why? We are here to protect the water, we are here to protect Mother Earth. We always have.”
(Note: the prayer camps at Standing Rock were not the first. Prayer camps are an indigenous tradition. One recent example: prayer camps in 2015 in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Now that Trump has reversed Obama’s ruling against that pipeline there will be indigenous-led resistance again.)
Five hundred years is a long time to suffer and endure. When will Easter come? What might Easter look like? Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Tribe member who ran for Congress in 2016 and who stayed in the Oceti Sakowin Camp till the end, once posted on his Facebook page this expression: “Get woke! Stay Woke!”
The Passion of Standing Rock woke a lot of people. There is now a worldwide divestment movement. Cities have been withdrawing from banks that invest in DAPL and other pipelines; a bank in Norway has sold its shares in DAPL. Thousands of individuals have moved their funds from banks like Wells Fargo and Citibank. You can participate, too. Here’s a list of investors found at www.waterislifemovement.com. The website also lists all the proposed pipelines and the organizations and prayer camps working to stop them. Very likely there is a pipeline coming your way. In whatever way you can, please join and support efforts to stop oil and gas pipelines and other environmental depredations.
As I continue to follow the stories of the water protectors, it is clear that being part of the prayer camps at Standing Rock was life changing. These transformed, awake people are going out to continue their woke lives all over the world. They are what Easter looks like.
Thank you to all water protectors everywhere. Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!
Elizabeth Cunningham is best known as the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award-winning novels featuring a feisty Celtic Magdalen. She has published three collections of poems, most recently So Ecstasy Can Find You. Her debut mystery novel, Murder at the Rummage Sale, was released last summer. An interfaith minister and counselor in private practice, she lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley where she opposes the Pilgrim Pipeline and the Aim Pipeline. She is a fellow emeritus of Black Earth Institute.