Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Emergence beyond imagining

So, when Energy Transfer Partners, the company constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), started planning for an 1,172-mile pipeline from Bakken, North Dakota, to the Mississippi River in Illinois, did they ever consider that they might help ignite the most important indigenous movement in this country perhaps ever? Could they have imagined that their project would unite native peoples on Turtle Island as never before and attract solidarity from peoples of such diverse cultures and backgrounds? Did they know it would bring about the most significant gathering of American Indian nations since the 1800s?

Talk about emergence from below!


And this is how it happened: When the company first drew the route for the North Dakota portion of the pipeline, they had it crossing under the Missouri River just upstream from Bismarck. Well, the residents of the city, which is 99% white, didn't like that plan. They were concerned about the impacts it could have on the river, their municipal water source. So when they pushed back, the company and the state agreed to a new route - south of the city and adjacent to land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux nation.


After more than a century of this kind of treatment at the hands of the "White Man," this was for this community the proverbial last straw. Native Americans have suffered a long history of being pushed off their lands, or having their lands contaminated by government agencies and corporations, by dirty industries, like oil and gas extraction, uranium and mineral mining, logging, hydroelectric projects, and more.

So, on April 1 of this year, a small group from Standing Rock went to the construction site to protest the pipeline, with signs, prayers and ceremonies.

A movement was born.

Its main slogan? "Water Is Life." How they identify themselves also matters. They refused the term "protestors," calling themselves "Protectors." That made all the difference. With that slogan, and that identifier, they put themselves into connection with indigenous struggles emerging all around the continent, and the world, where those living systems most needed for life are under great threat. These are not just "systems" of a dead Nature, either. The living water of rivers, the rolling prairies teeming with wildlife, the land where food is grown and harvested, all of this comprises a set of living relations with whom they/we live. And now the "Black Snake" had come, as prophesied, and it was a threat to what they held sacred - the Earth itself.

"What began with a small beachhead last April on the banks of the Cannonball River on land belonging to LaDonna Brave Bull Allard has expanded to both banks of the river and up the road, to multiple camps that have housed as many as 7,000 people from all over the world."
~ see: Standing Firm at Standing Rock: Why the Struggle is Bigger Than One Pipeline  - For indigenous people, the fight to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline is about reviving a way of life, by Sarah Jaffe

There are moments in the history of cultures, nations, empires, when one action, one commitment from one group of people hits exactly the right tone at exactly the right moment, when it strikes at the heart of a longstanding historical grievance at a time when consciousness has been raised, groundwork has been laid, historic systems of oppression have been revealed. Think Rosa Parks refusing to move from her seat on the bus, or those young men who asked to be served at the lunch counter in North Carolina. And then came Selma. And then came the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.
“We’re protecting the water, we’re not protesters,” explained Lay Ha. To him, as to many others in the camp, that the action is led by Native people, that it is built around their belief in nonviolence and in the spirit of prayer, is vital. It is, to them, much more than a protest. - from the article linked above
So, in North Dakota, what started out as a handful has now become a movement of thousands - because it is one pipeline too many, one arrogant energy company too many, one act against a people who had suffered no less than genocide not that long ago, who lost everything to an arrogant nation without respect for them or this sacred Earth. It has become a movement because after years of struggles across North America - from those resisting tar sands infrastructure in Canada, to those fighting fracking and pipelines in the U.S., to communities who have seen mountains and hills blown away for the profit of fossil fuel industries, or who have had water and air polluted by the waste, their kids sickened, and all those long-suffering environmentalists frustrated because their advocacy and organizing seems to produce too little change to make enough difference - a community of indigenous did something as simple as sitting down at the lunch counter: they came, they witnessed, and they refused to leave.

But more than that. They did not come to protest, they came to protect. They came to protect their water, the waters of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, already compromised by dams and pollution. But they knew what people in Michigan who live near Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River learned in 2010, or the people and animals that live along the Yellowstone River in Montana, or the people in Mayflower, Arkansas , back in 2013 - pipelines break, pipelines leak, and when they do, an ecosystem one depends upon for life can be destroyed - and not just physical life, but spiritual life as well.

 And that is pretty powerful stuff. It's something that a lot of non-indigenous North Americans have long forgotten, the descendants or inheritors of this white European capitalist way of life - that Nature is "enspirited," however one wants to understand that term. That Nature is an interlocking set of intricately complex webs of life, of living communities, all dependent upon one another in order to be alive. To tear savagely at those webs, those relations, is an act of violence against the entire living community.

We need one another - the birds and the bees, the bears and the deer, the fox and the eagles, the prairie grasses, deserts, forests, clean air and fresh clean water. However we develop our ways of life in search of comfort and security, without those things, we are dead, or at least very sick. We are only as healthy as these living communities are healthy. We are only as "secure" as the security of the webs that hold us.

Along the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers in a rural area of North Dakota far from the centers of economic and political power, or even from the consciousness of most Americans, a movement was birthed, one that is not going away any time soon.

At this point, more than 260 tribes, some that had been warring for generations, have joined in and their flags line the road that leads one to the two main camps, Oceti Sakowin and Sacred Stone. Representatives from indigenous peoples as far away as Ecuador and Scandinavia have sent delegations, each of them asking respectfully to be allowed onto the land and into the sacred circles of the Standing Rock Sioux. Several thousand people have come through, all of them welcomed, and many have stayed. The Sioux have vowed to stay until the pipeline is rejected, and this means facing the extreme hardships of a North Dakota winter.


But support continues to roll in - food, water, blankets, and more. Small solar installations are being put in place to provide heat for more permanent structures - kitchens, cafeterias, clinics, and meeting places. These people are serious. This movement is for real.

And North Dakota is not the only state to see significant resistance to DAPL. Across Iowa, hundreds of people have mobilized, committed acts of civil disobedience, filed law suits, and won some significant battles. In this state, an essential aspect of the struggle has been around the company's claims for eminent domain - the taking of private land for the sake of a "public good." What many Iowa farmers and other landowners wondered was this: what public good is at stake when a private company comes in to construct an oil pipeline to the benefit of that company's profits at extreme environmental costs, and potential dangers, to the land and waters of Iowa, and to the detriment of property owners whose land was being taken?

The pipeline route cuts from the northwest corner of Iowa diagonally to the southeast corner and under the Mississippi River. Legal action involved challenging eminent domain in court. Direct action has involved civil disobedience near the river crossing. Delegations have traveled back and forth from Iowa and North Dakota, and the solidarity continues to grow.

I could write about this all day long, but you get the idea. We believe real change is not a top-down project, is not imposed from above and downward, even when those doing the imposing come from the progressive community. Real change comes "from below," from the empowerment and organizing of those whom dominant societies have oppressed, marginalized, discriminated against, exploited, or that have advanced at the sacrifice of these populations. What is happening in North Dakota is a rising up of a people who have suffered unimaginable violence, impoverishment, racism, and more since the arrival of Europeans on the continent. They fought heroically to defend their peoples and cultures against those with greater firepower, and what was wanted by the conquerors is that they disappear.

But they didn't disappear. in this incipient movement - not exclusive to North Dakota but underway among Indian nations throughout the Americas - lies a real hope for our future on this planet. There is a wisdom here lost to our exploitative, damaging, disrespectful economic way of life. More and more people are experiencing in their bodies, in their physical lives in the places where they live, the planetary changes that are telling us we westerners have pushed this planet way too far. It is responding to our industrial/consumer way of life now in some pretty terrifying ways.

Photo Credit: David Goldtooth
Something is rising up in North Dakota, and it speaks to a greater rising up. We want to tell more of those stories here, because these are the seeds of New Creation.

Margaret Swedish
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For more information:

Social media is filling the role that we wish more mainstream journalists would fill. The best way to follow events related to DAPL and the movement to stop it is by way of social media, which the Defenders and their allies have been using brilliantly. Recommended Facebook pages and websites include the following:

Sacred Stone Camp, and their Facebook page 
Indigenous Environmental Network, and their Facebook page 
DAPL Pipeline Construction Watchdogs Facebook page


Video and articles:

Standing Rock: A New Era in the American Indian Movement - telesur video
Standing Rock Protests: This is Only the Beginning - from The Guardian
Rediscovering Native American Roots at Pipeline Protest - from the BBC
Standing Rock: A New Moment for Native American Rights - from The New Yorker
Why We Are Singing for Water... - gorgeous essay by Linda Hogan
What You Need to Know About the Dakota Pipeline Protest

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