Andersen: The view from Standing Rock
December 11, 2016
A historic moment ended last week with a dramatic, high-plains blizzard as Standing Rock guardians disbanded after the pipeline project was halted by the Army Corps of Engineers.
A veteran friend, Jonathan, who served with Special Forces in Afghanistan and has participated in two Huts For Vets programs here in Aspen, left his studies at St. John's College and joined more than 2,000 veterans to stand with the protestors.
His Facebook posts capture his firsthand experience:
• Dec. 6: "Although I am emotionally exhausted, there is no other place I would rather be. It is incredible to be with so many people from so many different backgrounds to support the Standing Rock Sioux and work toward a better and sustainable future. This fight is far from over, as greed, domination and exploitation know no boundaries.
• Dec. 8: "Standing Rock has been an experience that has forever changed my life, and will always hold a special place in my heart. I mobilized to support the struggle for Indigenous rights and protection of the environment after seeing instruments of war being used against unarmed, prayerful and peaceful water protectors. I was shocked and deeply disturbed by facing the militarized force and electronic warfare first hand. Viewing pictures and videos online cannot compare.
"After these tactics escalated to incorporate water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures, I had no choice but to return with military veterans from across the country. I anticipated the presence of aggressive personalities that might want to independently confront violence with violence. I was happy to learn that Wes Clark Jr. decided to follow the local Indigenous lead in pursuing their vision forward.
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"On Sunday, local elders related part of their culture, history and approach to this struggle. I was pleased to observe the general acceptance of the proposition that we must join in solidarity to fight racism, sexism, capitalism and militarized enforcement of destructive and oppressive policies in order to provide for the sustainable existence of humanity. We all have so much to learn from our Indigenous sisters and brothers.
"On this day, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would deny the easement to drill under the Missouri River. Energy Transfer Partners will surely continue their push to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline, regardless of the impact on the people of this country and the world.
"Monday morning we participated in a ceremony to ask forgiveness from Indigenous elders for atrocities committed by the United States against their people. This ceremony was extremely powerful and brought many, including myself, to tears. After participating in the destruction and militarization of countries around the world merely for power and profit, it is difficult to describe the realization with coming full circle to face the descendants of the original recipients of our founders' lethal vision.
"Blizzard conditions set in shortly after the ceremony. … Chairman Archambault requested that all non-locals return home. The evening concluded with an incredibly powerful ceremony, where Native and non-Native veterans were presented with eagle feathers, accompanied by four drum circles singing victory songs. We all danced to the prayerful songs as we were bestowed this great honor.
"After the feather presentation, Iraq Veterans Against the War closed out our participation and all spoke about our experience. I could not be more proud to be part of this organization and the greater movement for human and environmental rights: amazing people committed to the improvement of our society and world. A portion of my faith in humanity has been restored.
"The time for revolution is upon us. We must prioritize meaningful engagement in our communities to produce the changes required for our continued existence. I speak as someone who has been given tremendous privilege as a white, male veteran, and I believe that anyone who has been given privilege must leverage it against the system that oppresses and destroys the environment and marginalizes communities. We cannot afford indifference at this critical juncture. Stand and act in solidarity!"
Jonathan is a warrior, as were all the veterans at Standing Rock. Their message is loud and clear: Our nation's warriors will fight when justice for man and nature hangs in the balance.
Paul Andersen's column appears Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.