In the later part of 2016 and early 2017, much of my attention has been centered around the events happening in and around the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Thousands of people, hundreds of tribes and dozens of municipalities have joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172-mile-long underground oil pipeline project beginning in the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota and travels through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois with the most controversial aspect of the project being the pipeline would cross under the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Estimated at $3.78 billion, the pipeline will carry 470,000 barrels per day of crude oil and has the capacity to carry up to 570,000 barrels per day and would create up to 40 permanent jobs and 8,200-12,000 temporary jobs during construction.
Protests have heightened in the early part of August when construction began on a site near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation where 86 burial sites have been identified by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Tribal leaders called for help to all directions for people to make their way to Standing Rock and little did they know, they started a movement that has been witnessed by the entire world. The reason for the call: the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did not permit the company to begin construction on its proposed path, which is a few miles off the reservation.
Early in May of 2016, I had the privilege of traveling to Standing Rock for the first time with a very dear friend of mine, Reuben Fasthorse, where we hosted a British author attempting to research material on writing a travel memoir of traveling in Indian Country as a European. Our visit included the many sacred and significant sites belonging to not only the Hunkpapa (Standing Rock) Lakota, but the Lakota people and their history. We met and held meetings with many people among the Tribe, which included LaDonna Brave Bull Allard - Standing Rock's Clean Water Act Coordinator (at the time). She spoke to our guest about treaties, law, oil pipelines, the environment, not the fabled oral traditions about Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn that most come to Lakota Country expecting to hear. What our guest heard was the Lakota people, like many other Tribes in the United States, still face a battle against different entities such as the Federal Government and Corporations who have no regard to a people and their history. In other words, American Indian people are still here and continue to face the same battle of defending a way of life well into the 21st century. LaDonna and I quickly exchanged information and became friends; it was her call that moved me to travel to Standing Rock in early August.
My travels to and from Standing Rock were merely to support - to bear witness and offer my support as a person. What I saw and experienced kept me going to Standing Rock every chance I could. Coming from an American Indian community and culture, I am well experienced when it comes to the disrespect from the non-Native corporate supporting capitalist culture that continues to engulf and destroy the planet we all live on. What I saw that day will remain in my memory for as long as I live. A company digging up burial sites with no regard for law, for a people or their history and having to feel the energy of all of that was very life-changing. There was no media, no celebrities, no big names there - just people voicing their heart and spirit against something they had no say in. Imagine an outside entity claiming to have right to dig over your ancestors' gravesites - how would that make you feel?
Well over 800 people have been arrested since protests have heightened in mid-August and as cases are making their way into court many are being dropped for lack of evidence. In other words, the State of North Dakota can't prove what certain people did or didn't do, but law enforcement has been hasty in arresting as many people as they can leading to many wrongful arrests and lawsuits against many jurisdictions. During the heightened events where thousands traveled to both bear witness and demonstrate against the wrongful actions conducted by both the Dakota Access Pipeline and law enforcement, there were many common things being expressed about the actions and they are now making their way into being shared publicly. Some of the statements, which are now coming to light, are that the security companies representing the Dakota Access Pipeline were conducting illegal activities to aggravate the situation including infiltrating the camps and encouraging illegal activities while peaceful demonstrations were being conducted. In addition, all of the security companies didn't have a license to operate in North Dakota leading to further lawsuits and the support of the Morton County Sheriff's Department only suggests one thing - they were only there to protect an oil company's interests, not the people's interests. Just recently, a federal judge ruled that the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline by the 45th President Donald J. Trump during his first few days of his presidency violated the law. There are aspects of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Treaty with the Federal Government that were not taken into account and they include how a spill would affect the Tribe's hunting and fishing rights, when there is a spill.
In addition to the many horrors that were witnessed during the several months long demonstration near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, there were many beautiful things that came from such a polarized event in our history. And when I say history I don't just mean Native people's history, but all people's history. It was one of the largest gathering of Tribes in United States' history. Many thousands of people united together making the protests near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation one of the most heightened events of 2016 and the largest protest camp in Unites States history. No doubt, this will remain in many people's memories as people created relationships and bonds that will last many generations. My family from more than 2,000 miles away came to support. People from overseas traveled to the isolated Northern Plains. I've met so many beautiful people that will remain in my heart forever and I am forever grateful that I could be hosted by such a beautiful people.
As just one person who went to support and bear witness, I realize how important it is to continue to educate people on who we are, what our treaties mean not only to our communities, but the country's, what our people have endured up to and during these events, and what we can accomplish when we come together. I will always keep these events close to my heart and will always share my experience with those willing to listen. If you would like to learn more about this, please visit www.standingrock.org, which is the official communications engine of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe or, of course, reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I've written many pieces in travels to Standing Rock and if you'd like to read some of them, please visit Native News Online: Darren Thompson for more references and information. I hope you will take what little I have to offer on this very important manner to heart and you will find what's true and honest in your own research. I'm always open and available for comments, questions, or other opportunities.