Colson: A few observations about Standing Rock
November 29, 2016
I can’t write about our president-elect this week, my fingers have trouble even typing out his name, so let’s take a look at other things, such as the ongoing protest against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL (NoDAPL is the name given to the protest action).
It appears that, aside from the fact that protesters have been hosed down in freezing temperatures by private security thugs, shot with rubber bullets capable of ripping into the skin and generally harassed beyond endurance, there is a strange kind of trouble at Standing Rock.
I’m referring to a growing sense among some organizers that things are getting out of hand, as non-tribal members show up more to party and look cool than to actually participate in the myriad tasks keeping the protest going, at least according to a recent story in the London, England-based news organ, The Independent (by writer Roisin O’Connor).
This is the picture being painted by some on social media, as well, as the national and international news organizations are beginning to pay closer attention to what’s going on at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which straddles the border of North and South Dakota in the area where the Missouri River wanders through.
Tribal elders, in the story, were careful to say that most of the people flocking to the protest site (more than 500 have been arrested so far in the protests, according to The New York Times, and at one point there were 9,000 reported protesters on hand) are respectful of the organizers’ goals and needs, helpful in any way they can be, and generally are considered a great help rather than a hindrance.
I’m certain our own Carbondale contingent is among the respectful, helpful group of visiting protesters.
In fact, I met a man in Denver last weekend who had just returned from four days at Standing Rock, and he spoke glowingly about the hard work and dedication shown by a number of Carbondalians while he was there.
For those who may not be keeping up with the news about Standing Rock, it has been underway for months.
According to published accounts, the corporation that is building the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline (from North Dakota gas fields to a junction point with another, existing pipeline in Illinois), Energy Transfer Partners, received federal permits last July to build the pipeline across reservation lands. The route of the pipeline, however, was changed at some point to avoid coming too close to several towns (presumably inhabited by white folks) and redirected to cross native lands and dive under a Missouri River reservoir known as Lake Oahe in southern North Dakota, plowing through sacred tribal sites along the way.
At that point, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes objected, angered about the violation of sacred grounds and worried the pipeline could leak and pollute their drinking water, not to mention its potential to wreak similar havoc in downstream towns and cities.
The company says the tribes were OK with the new route, but the tribes say otherwise (interestingly, I understand that Donald J. Trump is a stockholder in Energy Transfer Partners — oops, wasn’t going to write his name. Oh, well).
According to one count, more than 300 tribes are taking part in the protest, which has been called the largest gathering of Native American tribal members in a century or more.
The federal government is tied up in knots over how to respond. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that the biggest campsite, called the Oceti Sakowin camp, will be off limits to campers as of Dec. 5, although the Corps reportedly walked that back a bit in recent days and said it will not actively evict campers at that time.
Which is good, because the tribal elders and the protesters supporting them say they aren’t going anywhere for now, and certainly not on Dec. 5.
And, I say, bully for them.
I’m somewhat alarmed by the story in The Independent, which indicated that white interlopers are eating up all the food, acting like, well, selfish, intolerant white people often do, and seem to be disinterested in the actual work needed to keep a protest such as this one moving forward.
Shame on them.
To paraphrase a line from Frank Zappa’s song “Trouble Every Day,” in this context, “I’m glad I’m not red, but there’s a whole lotta times I wish I wasn’t white.”
But the overall tenor of articles and personal accounts about the protest is more heartening.
I mean, how would you react if an energy company were to announce plans to plow a pipeline through your neighborhood cemetery, trashing the burial ground of family members who had been there for decades or centuries?
And on top of that, how would you feel if that energy company were to reassure you that the pipeline would be “safe” and would have built-in “safeguards” against spills and leaks, so your drinking water would be safe?
I can tell what my reaction would be: “No way, buster, you’re going to have to find some other place to run your damned pipeline.”
And I’d back it up with action, just as the Native American protesters are doing, with a lot of help from their friends (and maybe a little disappointing interference from outsiders who might think they’re friends, but really are just cultural tourists with little understanding about the realities involved).
This whole scene, unfortunately, is a pungent reminder of our shameful treatment of this continent’s original inhabitants over the past five centuries.
I guess some things never do change, really.
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