We’re Going to Need a Lot More Sioux
Last year’s protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was an admirable exercise in focus and endurance put on by our Native American brethren. For months, the Standing Rock Sioux stood in the face of pipeline construction, enduring tear gas, the sting of mace, the end of the baton and the blistering force of the water cannon along the way. Through the summer and fall and winter, they stood sentry over their land in spite of distraction and wandering white people who were apparently lost on their way to Coachella. The tribe was a force to be reckoned with and their demonstration grew larger as people across the country heeded the call. Their protests reminded us of a time when black and white images were displayed on our television screens, showing protesters on their march through the streets of Selma, drawing a straight line from the Edmund Pettus bridge to the Sacred Stone Camp. The tribe showed us that environmental rights are inherently civil rights and civil rights are ultimately human rights.
This exercise of civil disobedience lasted for eight long months until the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers announced last December that they would halt construction of the pipeline pending further environmental review. Many celebrated the news over social media, praising it as one of President Obama’s last great achievements. And yet to many, especially in the Native American community, they knew this was just the beginning. They understood how these things work. Who can blame them? This isn’t their first rodeo. Treaties have been broken and promises have been left unfulfilled in the past. They knew the incoming administration and what it stands for and what it means for their land.
And they were right.
Yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order to restart construction on the pipeline. This order came as a shock to the very few who weren’t paying attention. Protesters have already vowed to return to the site to protect their land, despite the ongoing winter and the likely clashes with authorities to come. People are gearing up. Temporary structures will be built again. Demonstrators will chain themselves to earth moving equipment. Bones will be shattered and blood will likely be spilled once again.
However, with an administration that takes pro-energy stances to a whole other level, the future DAPL protest will only be a small sign of the challenging road that lays ahead for our land and open spaces. The signals are many and they are overwhelming:
ROGUE EPA CHIEF. There is Scott Pruitt, the ex-attorney general of Oklahoma. An incoming EPA chief who has sued the very agency he may soon be running 14 times. A man who echoes the president when it comes to the denial of climate change. A man who wants to revoke U.S. membership in the Paris Accords, effectively removing regulations and restrictions placed on United Sates’ emissions and rendering the entire agreement useless. A man who brags on his LinkedIn page that he is a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” A man who copied a letter from Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas company and pasted it on to state stationary and sent it to the EPA to protest a review of emissions done by drilling within his own state. This is the man that we are going to place at the head of Environmental Protection Agency and for as long as I live, I will never understand how cynical of a ploy this nomination truly is. There is no doubt the attorney general was picked for one thing: to gut the agency he is assigned to run.
WITCH HUNT. During the beginnings of the transition, Trump’s team sent out an internal survey to all Department of Energy employees, asking about issues concerning climate chang and who was in charge of them. In what many DOE staffers called a political witch hunt, “the president-elect’s team sought the information as part of a 74-point questionnaire that also asked for details about how DOE’s statistical arm, the Energy Information Administration, does the math on issues such as the cost-effectiveness of wind and solar power versus fossil fuels.”
WIDE OPEN SPACES. The incoming administration has vowed to look more to our open spaces for drilling purposes. With about 500 million acres of land, including national parks, standing atop billions of barrels of oil as well as coal, natural gas and uranium deposits, there is an opportunity to pillage like never before. This opportunity has not been ignored by the energy lobby who are looking at a “once in a lifetime” chance to take advantage of an administration which has all but declared itself to be on the side of oil and natural gas companies.
THE TWEET. Our president is a man who believes that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Cinese. What else needs to be said?
While the debate about how to solve the climate crisis can be a partisan one, the issue alone should not be a political one. The ramifications of climate change are already occurring, with coastal states already spending billions on protection from rising tides to sun belt states preparing for a record-long drought, and these occurrences aren’t just affecting democrats or republicans or young or old or white or black. They are affecting everyone and they will have a disastrous impact on the lives of generations to come if left unchecked.
The arrival of Trump, and his ironic cabinet picks, could not come at a worse time for the environment.. The earth is reaching a breaking point of what it can handle requiring that this administration is held accountable at every turn. The next four years will be a referendum on what we, as an American society, believe in when it comes to the environment and what kind of land and water and sky we would like to leave to our kids and grandkids. Unfortunately, the reopening of the DAPL only reaffirms the anxieties of environmentalist scientists who were already cautious of the incoming administration.
This is just the start.
So as opposition to Trump’s environmental policies begins to prepare for a long, tiring four years, it should take a lesson or two from the Sioux tribe and their protest of DAPL. The tribe was focused on clean water and their land and nothing more. They organized. They prayed for those who stood in their way. They loved their enemy in the same tradition of the Civil Rights movement and understood that their ultimate goal, clean drinking water, benefits everyone. As one protestor asked a policeman who was manning the crowds, “Don’t you drink water too? Don’t your children drink water? We’re here to protect the water. This isn’t just a native issues. We’re here protecting the water, not only for our families and our children, but for your families and your children. For every ranch and every farm along the Missouri river.” Because if the pipeline wasn’t good enough for Bismark, a mostly white town that originally rejected the idea of the pipeline running underneath it, why should it be good for the Sioux?
The situation at Standing Rock is yet another reminder of how American Indian tribes have been treated by a country all too willing to throw them to barely habitable lands and still have the audacity to steal resources from the beneath their feet. However, it is also another reminder of what kind of force a few thousand protesters can do to bring a multi-billion dollar entity to its knees. In the next four years, we’re going to need those forces everywhere. They will need to be organized and prepared. And most of all, they will need to be focused because there is a storm brewing and this week the winds are stirring in the plains of North Dakota.