Whose Protest is it Anyway? How Non-Native Activists Colonized an American Indian Movement

Sunday December 4th, 2016 was a day of jubilee for activists fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) as the US Army Corps of Engineers rejected the easement necessary for DAPL construction to continue under Lake Oahe. As he announced the news to supporters, Rami Bald Eagle, Cheyenne River Lakota Tribal Leader said, “We will not fight tonight, we will dance!”

This development was an enormous relief to many as tensions had increased to a boiling point in previous weeks and appeared to be reaching a tipping point. As many as 2000 former military personnel associated with the group Veterans Stand for Standing Rock had descended on the camps in response to violent clashes between police and protesters, bringing the army of water protectors, as they prefer to be called, to as many as 8000 by Huffington Post’s estimate. By comparison, the entire population of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was 8,250 as of the 2000 census. Astonishingly, all of these protesters are packed into a low-lying floodplain at the mouth of the Cannonball River.

The Sacred Stone Camp is on the SRST reservation. All other camps (e.g., Oceti Sakowin, Red Warrior, etc are located on the sprawling floodplain).
A recent view of Oceti Sakowin.

However, that is unfortunately not the happy ending to an arduous saga that many had hoped for as protesters are vowed to continue their demonstration. If the easement has been denied, and the objectives of the Standing Rock Sioux’s protest met, but protesters are reaffirming their resolve to remain, one has to ask whose protest is it anyway?

Although water protectors were at first happy to gain the attention of the nation and support from people outside the SRST, the situation quickly grew beyond their control. As early as August, there was concern as the population of the camps was estimated at 2000 to 4000 protesters, based on aerial surveillance. Although public perception was that the protests were occurring on reservation land, under the auspices of the SRST, the fact of the matter was that only the Sacred Stone Camp was on reservation land; the remainder of the camps had sprung up on private and federal land. At that time, when asked if he would ask people to leave the camps, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II said, “Will you tell somebody that they have a First Amendment right, but they cannot exercise it? How can I do that?”

Fact of the matter is, Archambault had no authority to force the protesters off the land they were occupying even if he wanted to because the reservation doesn’t have jurisdiction over that land. The Morton County Sheriff’s Dept forced protesters off private land in late October, leaving all the thousands of protesters huddled on federal land administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers that was outside the jurisdiction of both Morton County and the Standing Rock Sioux. With winter coming, the Army Corps of Engineers finally issued an eviction notice … effective date, TODAY 05 DEC 2016. This notice was backed up by evacuation orders from the State of North Dakota.

So it’s safe to say this isn’t the Indians’ protest, even though it was started by them and includes the support of many tribes. Archambault didn’t bring the protesters here, they’re not on his land, and he has no legal authority to move them. Although biased media outlets employ sensationalist bylines like, “Army Corps Issues Eviction Notice to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe” to suggest the SRST are both responsible for the protests and the target of the eviction orders, they neglect to inform the public that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council voted unanimously at a Tribal Council meeting on 01 NOV 2016 to ask the Red Warrior Camp to leave. Likewise, on 02 DEC 2016, Elder Charmaine White Face issued a request on behalf of the elders from both Standing Rock and Pine Ridge Reservations that the protesters break camp and go home.

The fact of the matter is that this is not a protest for Indians, by Indians. For all the talk of the protesters being “water protectors,” the true water protectors — the Indians who live on that land as they have for generations — are fed up with the outsiders who have shown up at their doorstep, commandeered their message of protecting the water, and stamped their own agenda on the demonstration.

Instead, colonizing protesters who don’t care what they have to destroy to accomplish their mission have taken over the agenda of the protests. In so doing, they have trashed a place sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in a way DAPL never could have done. Any sacred sites in the wetlands being occupied by the outsiders are being desecrated with the shit, piss, and waste of 8000 people using the Standing Rock Sioux as pawns for their own agenda.

I have a hunch archaeologists didn’t have a chance to examine this area for relics before the protesters turned it into their own personal waste pit.

In an interview with Vice, Archambault lamented their presence saying (abridged), “I go down there and I look at the waste. There’s a lot of waste. It’s a distraction from the water. If we’re about this environment, we would be protecting Mother Earth. We wouldn’t be hurting her. And yet, we’re punching holes all over down there (pitching tents), in Mother Earth. That’s a sacred place. But there’s no regard. When I look at that camp, I always think: What’s going to happen when this is over? Who’s going to clean that up? Who’s going to put that land back to its natural state? Before this entire movement started, that was some of the most beautiful land around. There was a place down there where eagles, over 100 eagles would come and land. There were game down there — deer, pheasants, elk, geese. Now, it’s occupied by people. And when masses of people come to one place, we don’t take care of it.

I heard that they’re digging pits down there for their human waste. That’s a flood zone. So when the floodwaters come up, that waste is going to be contaminating the water. We’re no different than the oil company, if we’re fighting for water. What’s going to happen when people leave? Who has to clean it up? Who has to refurbish it? It’s going to be us, the people who live here. Not only that, but there are relationships that are being damaged because of unlawful actions, violent actions, violent behavior against law enforcement. Law enforcement lives here. And we live here. The water protectors are going to be gone.

In short, colonizing white environmentalists have commandeered the agenda of the SRST, supplanting it with their own agenda. When the dist settles and they all leave, it’s the Standing Rock Sioux who are going to be left to clean up the mess made by the protesters.

And remember what Archambault said about the camps being in a floodplain? Well, if this continues until Spring, Mother Nature will do what the Morton County Sheriff’s Dept, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Standing Rock Sioux couldn’t … end this protest in a flood of Biblical proportions. If that happens, all the waste generated over the course of the protests (to include the trash and equipment left in the floodplain) is going to wash into Lake Oahe, polluting the very water the protesters pretend they are protecting.

A glimpse of the future.

That is assuming a fire doesn’t rage through the camps as 8000 people in highly flammable canvas tents, and lodgings built without respect to fire codes, run portable heaters non-stop trying to stay warm through the bitter, North Dakota winter.

Probably not equipped with smoke detectors and sprinklers.

I’ve been saying it for months. The DAPL protests are a rolling disaster. The longer they continue, the worse the outcome will be for everyone involved. When this all ends, for better or worse, there will be only one person who can truly lay claim to the statement, “This was my protest.”

Your protest facilitator

On January 2, 2016, upwards of three dozen persons associated with a protest against the arson convictions of two local ranchers occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. In spite of the fact that the protesters were armed and claimed that they would not leave peacefully until they demands were met, the whole situation was over in less than a month thanks to the coordinated efforts of local and federal law enforcement officials.

However, in spite of the DAPL protests being ostensibly the same situation (i.e., people engaged in an unauthorized occupation of federal land), President Obama made the decision in early November to “let it play out for several more weeks”. Only one person in America had the power to prevent this protest from becoming a catastrophe and that person decided to abdicate his responsibility as steward of federal lands and enforcer of federal laws in favor of kicking the can down the road. When asked, “Whose protest is it anyway?” only one person can definitively say, “It was mine.” President Barack Obama.

Everyone else involved in this protest had understandable, if misguided, reasons for participating. The Indians obviously had legitimate reasons out of concern for their water and their sacred land. The environmentalists had their reasons for opposing DAPL in the name of fighting global warming and promoting alternative energy. Energy Transfer Partners felt they were entirely within their rights to go ahead with the pipeline, having received previous approval from the very Corps of Engineers that suddenly rescinded their grant. And local law enforcement went above and beyond the call of duty to protect private property and enforce the laws of North Dakota. Only one entity in this matter acted in a truly capricious and arbitrary manner, with no concern for the interests of the nation, the Standing Rock Sioux, the environment, the domestic energy industry, or law enforcement. President Barack Obama. Whatever becomes of the buck that has been passed, it must ultimately stop with him and his decision to do nothing.

Nero would be so proud.

What happens now is anyone’s guess. With protesters vowing to remain through the winter, local law enforcement bankrupted by federal indifference to their responsibilities, and the watershed of the Standing Rock Sioux being further polluted by protesters they are incapable of evicting, one can only assume that some disaster will come of this. There could be more violence against law enforcement. There could be lawlessness within the camps that has only been hinted at, given the lack of unbiased media presence or law enforcement (neither the Morton County Sheriff’s Dept or the Standing Rock Sioux have jurisdiction in the protest area). Sacred sites within the protest area could be desecrated. Pollution of the watershed will only grow as the protests continue. The lack of sanitation and adequate healthcare may result in disease running through the camps. And the lack of proper permitting and safety precautions could mean that a devastating fire is all but inevitable in the camps this winter.

Whatever the outcome, one can sadly admit that it will not be good, and most certainly won’t be in the interests of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. For that, we can thank a president who was more concerned about protecting his perception as an environmentalist than being an actual steward of the land.

If you truly care about the land, the water, and the Sioux, then listen to the elders. You are doing no good by supporting these protesters and their camps. The true water protectors, the Standing Rock Sioux, want you to leave. Respect their wishes.

Red Warrior Camp could give a shit about the wishes of the Standing Rock Sioux, obviously.