The Standing Rock Syllabus Project
On behalf of the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective
First published on Public Seminar.
As Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and organizers who engage in studies of Indigenous life, politics, and education, settler colonialism, and decolonization, we stand in solidarity with the Indigenous struggle to stop the 1,172 mile Dakota Access Pipeline. Projected to transport hydraulically fractured (or “fracked”) natural gas from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota to the Gulf Coast, DAPL violates the Fort Laramie Treaties signed in 1851 and 1868 by the United States and bands of the Sioux and other tribes, as well as recent United States environmental regulations.
The dangers to the natural environment and local Indigenous communities are grave. While the pipeline was originally planned upriver from the predominantly white border town of Bismarck, North Dakota, the new route passes immediately above the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, running under Lake Oahe and tributaries of Lake Sakakawea, crossing the Missouri River twice, and the Mississippi River once. Not only may this pipeline contaminate a vital water source for Standing Rock, and millions of people in the surrounding area, but it also threatens one of the largest subterranean water tables in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer. In the last 2 years, over 300 pipeline leaks and spills have damaged irreparably land, water, and animal life — ecosystems as a whole. It is also clear that the benefits of this construction project are tied to the prosperity of a very few — in particular, a private energy corporation, Energy Transfer Partners, based in Dallas, Texas and their financial backers.
At present, the water protectors in the resistance camps hold the line against immanent environmental disaster that goes well beyond Standing Rock. The thousands of people convened at camps in North Dakota in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies hold the line for everyone, every being, and every thing around them. Their selflessness and courage in deploying their very bodies to block construction demands our support; the mounting state police and military response sparks our outrage. Yet the mainstream media has failed to offer sufficient coverage of The Standing Rock Collective’s non-violent, peaceful resistance or of the demonstrations of solidarity all across the United States and Canada.Journalists and filmmakers are being arrested for reporting on daily life in the camps.
Now is the time to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux against catastrophic environmental damage and to publicly support Indigenous sovereignty and the protection of their land and water.
With this document, we, the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective, proclaim our intent to advance the historic work of the Sacred Stones Camp, Red Warrior Camp, and the Oceti Sakowin Camp to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which threatens traditional and treaty-guaranteed Great Sioux Nation territory. We pursue three goals:
- To heighten awareness of the Dakota Access Pipeline in New York City and surrounding region
- To support the water protectors at the camps with material supplies, money and publicity
- To launch a syllabus project to contextualize DAPL within Sioux and settler history so that those who seek a deeper understanding of the territory and the conflict might learn and teach
Already, we have organized a rally of over 2000 people, in collaboration with Decolonize This Place, at Washington Square Park on September 9th to collect donations for the resistance camps and to raise awareness about a ruling that day by the US District Court judge in favor of Energy Transfer Partners, denying the Standing Rock Sioux’s claim for an injunction. Our letters of support to Chairman David Archambault at Standing Rock, professing both scholarly concern and solidarity from our Universities, may be viewed on our website. Teach-ins continue at Connecticut College, Columbia University, and The New School.
Our decision to design and write a syllabus centering on the Dakota Access Pipeline is driven by the urgency of the situation and a desire to offer intellectual and curricular support to the ongoing resistance efforts. But most importantly, we are interested in supporting and contextualizing the Standing Rock struggle within literatures that can help those new to Sioux history and contemporary Indigenous politics and criticism to understand this issue within history, within the literature on toxicity and its dangers to the environment, and within gender and police violence within settler states. We hope our syllabus might help answer the questions “How did this happen”? “What do I need to read to get a handle on what’s happening?” and “What can we now do?” We acknowledge as inspiration the Black Lives Matter Syllabus, the Trump 101 Syllabus, and the TRUMP 2.0 Syllabus, all of which responded to social events and political “phenomenon” with contextualizing, methodical, revisionary and critical curricular suggestions.
Our methodology (which we believe is important to share) involved collaborating closely with each other through meetings and through Google Docs. There are a group of us working on the project, but Matthew Chrisler, a doctoral student at CUNY in anthropology, started the syllabus with a timeline of events that contextualizes DAPL within treaty history in the Plains, but specifically Sioux Treaty history. He immediately started drafting a rationale for the syllabus as well. We invited Maria John, a historian now on a postdoctoral fellowship at Wesleyan University to add to the timeline and to join the syllabus project. Other New York City based contributors provided feedback on the timeline, made corrections, and suggested other possibilities for inclusion. We then started posting what we considered to be key readings up on the shared Google Doc. We asked each other to read the texts to confirm their significance and put specific inquiries out to American Studies scholars like Nick Estes and Alyosha Goldstein at University of New Mexico and Manu Vimalassery at Barnard College and asked for their recommendations. Identifying scholarship by Sioux scholars, other Indigenous scholars, and allied settler scholars became a deliberative curatorial exercise in radical accountability to Indigenous thought and politics.
We individually read all the materials for various sections to arrange them into emergent thematic areas (there are fifteen in total). What we thought was going to be a one-week project took almost two months as we saw new themes “pop up.” The New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective then met again and we talked at length about the syllabus and how to curate emergent sections. We want our readers and future teachers to understand that we take Sioux notions of history seriously but came to impasses with certain materials that we wanted to include, but felt inadequate to interpret. So we direct educators and students to the crucial archives of Lakota Winter Counts. One of the founders of the resistance camps at Standing Rock, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, has devoted her life to theinterpretation of these counts and any responsible curriculum will point to them and invite students to think about and with them. Recognizing then, our limitations, we volunteered to work with our strengths and to curate specific sections of the syllabus, to take charge of, so to speak, the content and the form. Matthew Chrisler managed the group and ordered the text with Jaskiran Dhillon, New School Assistant Professor of Global Studies and Anthropology who stepped in at certain points to read over entries. Along with Matthew Chrisler, Sheehan Moore, a doctoral student in anthropology at CUNY, organized all of the PDFs to attach to our website for syllabus readers to view and download. In this way, there were multiple eyes on each section as it took shape. We also asked curators to narrow their selections to book chapters and specific articles to further focus the syllabus and keep it accessible for people who would read and download it in short amounts of time. We wanted people to read the syllabus and teach the material, but also to have access to the readings for themselves and their students and/or community members.
Although a “work in progress,” the current #StandingRockSyllabus places what is happening now in a broader historical, political, economic, and social context going back over 500 years to the first expeditions of Columbus, the founding of the United States on institutionalized slavery, private property, and dispossession, and the rise of global carbon supply and demand. Indigenous peoples around the world have been on the frontlines of conflicts like Standing Rock for centuries. The syllabus foregrounds the work of Indigenous and allied activists and scholars: anthropologists, historians, environmental scientists, and legal scholars, all of whom contribute important insights into the conflicts between Indigenous sovereignty and resource extraction. It can be taught in its entirety, or in sections depending on the pedagogic needs. We hope that it will be used in K-12 school settings, community centers, social justice agencies training organizers, university classrooms, legal defense campaigns, social movement and political education workshops, and in the resistance camps at Standing Rock and other similar standoffs across the globe. As we move forward, we anticipate posting lesson plans on our website that will be derived from individuals and communities using the syllabus in their respective locales.
While our primary goal is to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, we recognize that Standing Rock is one frontline of many around the world. This syllabus can be a tool to access research usually kept behind paywalls, or a resource package for those unfamiliar with Indigenous histories and politics. Please share, add, and discuss using the hashtag #StandingRockSyllabus on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Like those on the frontlines, we are here for as long as it takes.
The #StandingRockSyllabus and accompanying PDFs can be found here.
The NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective contributors are: Audra Simpson (Kahnawake Mohawk), Crystal Migwans (Anishnaabe of Wikwemikong Unceded), Elsa Hoover (Anishnaabe), Jamey Jesperson, Jaskiran Dhillon, Margaux Kay Kristjansson, Maria John, Matthew Chrisler, Paige West, Sandy Grande (Quechua), Sheehan Moore, Tamar Blickstein, and Teresa Montoya (Diné)
The NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective would like to thank the following people for suggestions and guidance: Alyosha Goldstein, Cynthia Malone, Dean Saranillio, Jerry Jacka, Jessica Barnes, Karl Jacoby, Kim TallBear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate), Manu Vimalassery, and Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux).