From Sand Creek to Standing Rock: From Quick Death to Slow Death?

As I watch from my home in Boulder, Colorado what has unfolded on the Standing Rock Reservation of the Sioux Nation that was born of appropriate anger and frustration among many young Indians that grew to an uprising of over 10,000 people gathered in their support from around the world, and as I watch the subsequent protests, arrests, asaults, prayers, community building and destruction of encampments, I am brought to a troublesome conclusion to date: not much has substantially changed in our treatment of our Indigenous neighbors and consequently of ourselves. There is no significant difference in how our colonial nation treats Native Peoples now than as we have since our nation’s founding, where their attempts to protect the waters of their nations and indeed of all the waters of the world as our neighbors are still met with ruthless reprisal at the hands of the heavily militarized police and private mercenary armies with attack dogs and dangerous weapons.

I am grateful that no one died in our most recent onslaught at Standing Rock. Perhaps we can shallowly call that ‘progress’, but it nonetheless gives me little hope that we’ve evolved in any sort of progressive way yet, as over 800 water protectors are now facing innumerable criminal charges at the hands of our broken judicial system, being perhaps forever locked into a greater poverty than they were in before the gathering. Perhaps this recent conflagration can be considered a kind of deadly confrontation nonetheless, where the ruthless tactics have changed from murder to felonious assault at the hand of our police forces, with lives that are still being systematically ruined as Native Americans, many of whom already live with abject poverty are now sunk deeper into their economic graves as they add the burden of the cost of defending themselves in court against immoral laws, where years of colonization are still quite well organized to maintain and further the forced marches to their ultimate demise, with ever shorter life expectancies and lifestyles that can include suicide, alcoholism, post traumatic stress syndrome, homelessness and other ills born from the trauma of generations that have and to this day suffer in oppression and inequality.

It begs the question of how and when as a society we will wake up to the value of values deeply embedded in the lives of Native Americans, where their lessons of stewardship of our Earth and of ourselves can be brought to bear on behalf of all of us. It begs the question of when will we wake up to know that when we do this to our least fortunate that we do the same to ourselves. Alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide and mental illness are certainly not the exclusive purview of our Indigenous and homeless communities.

The ultimate irony is the reality that the Water Protectors brought their prayers to us for us all, asking our oil industry to wake up to our own blindness as renewable energy, born from the wind and sun forces of nature that are revered by Indians are reinventing the energy market as we pray, where a dying fossil fuel industry is marching toward the industry’s own slow demise, unwillingly and wastefully, creating a path that will likely be strewn with the fallout of an economic crash that is surely on its way at the timing of this writing, forcing the industry and us to reckon with the choices that we’ve made that are currently threatening our beautiful Earth.

I had the good fortune of marching with Denver Native Americans in solidarity with the Protectors of Standing Rock into the bowels of financial power inside of the Wells Fargo bank in Downtown Denver. The beautiful, powerful sound of the Indian drum and chanting reverberating through my chest and throughout the seven story atrium of the building in a resonance that lives with me to this day, in this moment. It is a beautiful resonance of the timeless strength of the Native Peoples, where they endure their hardships still to this day, after generations of oppression and genocide, still hopeful, still resolute, still speaking truth to power, risking their own well being with unjust arrest and prejudiced prosecution.

In talking with one of Boulder’s long-time leaders who I lovingly call “Boulder’s Yoda” about how we treat our Indigenous neighbors and the least fortunate among us, she commented that Boulder has become “hard core”. I’m so sorry to say that at this point in both our nation’s and my community’s evolution, I’ll have to agree.

Perhaps our social systemic times haven’t changed much since the militia trained here in Boulder ahead of their participation in the Sand Creek Massacre. As our police force sweeps our homeless neighbors from Boulder Creek (our Mni Wiconi), some of whom are Native Americans, we’re thankfully not killing them, but we do irreparable harm nonetheless. It’s no wonder that many of them suffer with mental illness, substance abuse and suicide. Look no further than our Indigenous neighbors who historically got sugar and booze from us colonizers that resulted in diabetes and alcoholism, and we wonder why our Indigenous and homeless folks are troubled.

In another personal tale of irony and paradox, my father David Bean with his team of collaborators invented and patented the natural gas pipeline pigging system, use throughout the industry today to clean condensate from the pipelines with a large foam rubber ball that is pushed by the pressure of flowing gas through the pipes, collecting the water in front of them. I often wonder about my activist work today, thinking about how our inventions of civil disobedience are used to plug the pipes rather than clean them, and how they hold a different kind of purpose, carrying a different but just as meaningful creativity.

Just as my Dad has passed away, so has the time when additional pipelines need to be built, particularly those carrying tar sand oil, which is energy intensive and polluting to produce. I’m glad that my Dad taught me to honor my beliefs and in the creative actions I take to ‘make the world a little better than I found it’ in the words that resonate within me still, just as he did as he worked as a pipeline systems engineer to bring heat to our homes. As my partner in my architecture practice, I know that he honored my years of work as a ‘green’ architect, using energy wisely and thoughtfully in the buildings that I designed. As a pipeline systems engineer and metallurgist he appreciated the new technologies being discovered, developed and deployed to bring renewable energy to us, warming our homes in a more responsible way, in honor of our Earth.

As I work today designing and developing co-housing eco-villages that will hopefully and appropriately honor and include the lives and culture of Indigenous peoples, my efforts beg the question: when and how will our society learn to have meaningful, creative conversations around inventing, as author and prophet Charles Eisenstein likes to say, ‘the more beautiful world that we know in our hearts is possible’?