Standing Rock is the Next Standing Rock

We live in an age of long battles and short news cycles, of live streaming and rising fascism and trending hashtags. Standing Rock, despite inadequate coverage by mainstream media, managed to hold our interest long enough to earn buzzword status.

image by Leslie Peterson (CC) BY-NC

By “our” interest, I mean that of white environmentalists and activists, of white liberals and progressives. The thousands of water protectors who converged on Standing Rock, established multiple encampments and their own media network, and faced militarized police; they have had no trouble maintaining interest.

Since the Army Corp of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partner’s easement to lay pipeline under Lake Oahe, “public” interest in the international movement for Native rights and clean water has waned again. News articles that covered this small victory with headlines like “Dakota Access Pipeline Loses to NoDAL Movement” or even “Obama Administration Halts Pipeline” certainly contributed to not only a false sense of finality, but also a false hope for government benevolence.

White “allies” who supported the water protectors online — dutifully calling them by name, just with scare quotes on either side — took the “water is life” banners off their profile pictures. White “allies” who traveled across the country — to sing songs around campfires and eat the food Winona Kasto and her team labour over — went back home. And as our news feeds quickly filled up with Tr*mp’s business conflicts, Russian ties, and terrifying cabinet picks, a lot of folks forgot about the Standing Rock Sioux and the threat to their ancestral lands and drinking water.

That threat is still looming, as the past two weeks have demonstrated.

Republican State Representative Keith Kempenich — who’s held office since 1992, thanks to Big Oil money — proposed House Bill 1203, legislation that would effectively legalize vehicular homicide against water protectors and other demonstrators. H.B. 1203 is just one of many anti-activist bills across the country.

The National Guard deployed an Avenger missile launcher worryingly close, though it has since disappeared. Energy Transfer Partners moved to reverse December’s victory, asking a U.S. District Judge to block the upcoming Environmental Impact Statement. And Republican Senator John Hoeven, a strong supporter of both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, has been elected Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

On Friday Donald Tr*mp, a man with a long history of anti-Native racism, was sworn in as the 45th President, with his hand on two bibles, ’cause why not? His Chief Strategist, white nationalist news magnate Steve Bannon, said of Tr*mp’s inauguration speech, “I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.”

In case the significance of that statement escapes you, let me explain. Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States and old white man on the $20 bill, masterminded the Trail of Tears. Adolf Hitler cited Jackson’s Indian Removal Act and the American reservation system (cw: images of mass graves) as an inspiration, along with the work of the man who inspired our National Park system.

And today, Tr*mp signed executive orders to accelerate DAPL and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Meanwhile I’ve seen, whether in news articles or on social media, (mostly white) people declaring that [insert environmental cause here] is the new/next/our Standing Rock. Rampant fracking in Navajo lands, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are a few that spring to mind. These comparisons are meant in solidarity, not simply to capitalize on No DAHL’s momentum, and if made by Indigenous environmentalists on the front lines then it’s relevant and not my place to question. Still, repeating phrases like “the next Standing Rock” or “this is [insert location]’s Standing Rock” implies that the fight for Standing Rock is over.

The fight is far from over. We must not allow Native peoples and Native issues to disappear from our ongoing fight the way the Native Americans page disappeared from on Friday.

We must first remember that this is a Native issue, not just an environmental one. We must center Native voices in the discussion and follow Native leadership in our tactics. We can’t call ourselves allies if we erase Native people from their own cause, or if we turn our backs and forget the cause all together.

We must promote Native voices as leadership in environmental causes, if we want to effect justice. We must support Native causes, even when they don’t affect us; from inspiring environmental and spiritual issues like Standing Rock or the Thirty Mile Telescope in Mauna Kea, to uglier issues like the Indian Child Welfare Act adoption crisis or the epidemic of sexual violence against Native women. We must acknowledge our complicity as settlers in the ongoing oppression and genocide against Native peoples, and in the ongoing exploitation and destruction of the world.

If we’re going to #StandWithStandingRock, we have to actually stand with Standing Rock.

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