Standing Rock’s Fight Is Our Fight Too

Unless you’ve been living under a rock and missing all of those Facebook check-ins to Standing Rock Reservation, you have probably heard about the #NODAPL movement by now and its impact on an indigenous community in North Dakota.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is calling to halt the construction of a $3.8 billion dollar, 1,100 mile Dakota Access Pipeline that would run under the Missouri River and carry roughly 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The Missouri River is the only source of water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and 4 million other people downriver from North Dakota to Illinois.

The resistance at Standing Rock, despite the media black-out, has been considered one of the most historic moments in Indigenous activism in the last century; with nearly 10,000 protectors and 25% of the U.S. tribal nations on location at the Sacred Stone Camp at one point.

Under indigenous leadership, people are quite literally putting their bodies and their lives on line to help halt construction. Since the beginning of the resistance, sacred burial grounds have been desecrated by Dakota Access, indigenous protectors have been attacked by dogs, and mace and rubber bullets have become a stark reality at the Sacred Stone Camp.

Indigenous Protector is maced by militarized police at the Missouri River — Rob Wilson Photography

As the resistance continues and the pipeline closes in on it’s .25 mile distance from the Missouri River, it causes me to wonder, how many people have to suffer in the face of corporate greed? How many more lives are we willing to ruin for the sake of money and power?

The pipeline is roughly .25 miles away from the Missouri River now — By @Dr0ne2bwild

The Response

Lawyers and Dakota Access representatives have responded to the ongoing protests, saying that the pipeline that is set to stretch along 4 states will be “spill-proof.”

But Bobbi Jean Threelegs, the leading youth activist of Standing Rock, refutes that statement explaining, “That even the smallest spill would only take minutes to get into [the tribes] water intake.” Clearly, futures are being risked here, and stakes are extremely high — especially for those living on Standing Rock Reservation.

So much so, that in August, Bobbi and a group of Standing Rock youth ran over 2,000 miles from their reservation in North Dakota to Washington D.C to deliver over 100,000 global signatures against the pipeline. After that, the Standing Rock Sioux filed a bid to the Federal Appeals Court to halt construction. Their bid was denied on the grounds that cultural and burial sites were not going to be negatively impacted.

So in the midst of this chaos, most of us are wondering where Obama’s been? He promised to protect indigenous groups many years ago. He’s supposed stopping Dakota Access — so why isn’t he?

On November 2nd, Obama announced that he was going to “let [the resistance] play out for a few more weeks” before determining if things could be resolved in a way that respected indigenous life.

Meanwhile, time is ticking as Indigenous protectors and militarized police continue to clash; and as winter steadily approaches North Dakota.

The Patterns of Environmental Racism

Unfortunately, the placement of the Dakota Access Pipeline is no accident at all. In fact, the pipeline was initially meant to go through Bismarck, North Dakota — a neighboring majority-white and middle-class town. But the route was immediately shot down by it’s community and local government. It was then, re-routed to go through the Sioux Reservation as a last minute measure.

Rob Wilson Photography

As a black woman, I fear the consequence of a pipeline that would desecrate and ruin indigenous life and land. What would that mean for poor black communities if our government allowed this kind of clear injustice? How as people, could we watch this and not worry about our communities being next?

Time and time again, from Flint, Michigan to the Navajo Reservation, and now the Standing Rock Reservation, we have seen how water is hardly ever considered a basic human right for marginalized communities and especially for indigenous communities all across the United States. There is an ongoing pattern of community water rights being violated due to ones’ race and class, and it’s unacceptable.

Bottled water is expensive and should never be ones’ only alternative to safe drinking and bathing water. All of these problems are being fueled by the corporate greed happening in our own backyards — in our own country and to our own people. I know we have the power to stop this. We must stand together. Now is the time.

Let’s Think About the Children

It’s 2016, and the destruction of sacred land and the dirtying of water is just one of the very real issues that Indigenous communities are having to sit down and talk to their children about, to advocate for, and to put their bodies on the line for. All while still facing the highest rate of police brutality, frightening suicide rates among youth, and the lasting inter-generational impact of boarding schools and genocide.

But here’s the thing: the weight Indigenous protectors are carrying in North Dakota also includes the 4 million people downriver who also depend on that source of water. They are fighting for our futures too.

At the end of the day, we’re all in the same frying pan. We’re all at risk of being exploited by corporations whenever those entities see fit. What’s happening on Standing Rock is an injustice, but it’s also the potential of what could happen to all or any of us — especially us brown folks. It’s a frightening possibility that we must stop in its tracks.

Sometimes, when I go on Facebook and see what’s happening in North Dakota, the future feels bleak. But then I look at the Standing Rock youth who have taken such initiative, and I realize that it’s still so bright. The world is not ideal right now, but we can make better — together.

These children, their futures matter; they deserve this fight. After all, we are leaving this world for them.

As the Lakota Sioux say: Mni Wocini — Water is Life.

It really is.

For information on how you can support Standing Rock Reservation, please visit sacredstonecamp.org. The best resources to follow the resistance are Red Warrior Camp, Sacred Stone Camp, and Unicorn Riot.

UPDATE: Protesters fighting pipeline construction must vacate property near the Cannonball River in North Dakota — the location of a large campsite for demonstrators — by December 5 or face arrest, the Army Corps of Engineers said Friday. (CNN)