[News] The Big Difference at Standing Rock Is Native Leadership All Around

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 13 12:16:42 EDT 2016


  The Big Difference at Standing Rock Is Native Leadership All Around

Sarah van Gelder  Sep 11, 2016

This year’s massive buildup of resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline 
follows closely on the heels of the victory over Keystone XL pipeline, 
something often credited to feverish organizing by 350.org. But years 
before 350’s involvement, there was the Indigenous Environmental 
Network, which launched that movement and its “Keep It In the Ground” 
messaging. This time, with nearly 200 tribes unified behind the Standing 
Rock tribe’s opposition to the pipeline and more than 3,000 people 
gathered at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, Native Americans are 
clearly leading the movement.

The encampment at Standing Rock are filled with prayers and ceremonies, 
and the spiritual core to this movement gives it resilience and power. 
The courage and clarity of the stand to protect our water is attracting 
support across the nation and around the world.

I came to Standing Rock to cover the arrival of Northwest tribal canoes 
and stayed for the rulings Friday 
on whether construction of the pipeline can continue. I spoke to Dallas 
Goldtooth, a veteran of the Keystone XL movement, on a hill overlooking 
the camp. Goldtooth (Mdewakanton Dakota and Dińe) is the Keep It In The 
Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.

*Sarah van Gelder:* What's going to happen following these rulings?

*Dallas Goldtooth:* We can only focus on this cherished moment that we 
have with each other. And the organizing continues. One thing that the 
uncertainty provides is this constant drive to see what else can we do 
to change the social dial toward our direction and change the 
conversation. I think slowly it's happening, it's coming. Standing Rock 
has now entered into the national narrative in some ways, in some 
places, so how can we further that?

*van Gelder:* I just asked a woman from the Oglala Nation if she'd ever 
seen anything like this. She said not since 1973 at Wounded Knee. Tell 
me how you see this in a historic context.

*Goldtooth:* I've talked to folks who were there, who are in this camp. 
At its very most there were about 200 people at Wounded Knee at its 
peak, and a lot of those were people who came in for the weekend and 
left. At its peak in this camp, we reached up to 3,500 people. People 
that traveled across the country. They carpooled, hitchiked. They 
organized caravans and buses. It’s magnificent to see that. It makes me 
think how different it would have been if we had had Facebook in 1973.

This is a special moment in the climate justice movement. We’ve had 
significant wins: Keystone XL. The Cherry Point coal terminal, another 
win in support of treaty rights. I’m looking forward to what happens 
next. There are people very committed—through nonviolent direct action, 
through legal strategies, through social movement strategies—to make 
sure we see a win in this case, too.

*van Gelder:* This is a pretty big moment for treaty rights and for 
indigenous folks standing together.

*Goldtooth:* It is. I don’t think there has ever been as large a 
mobilization and a unified, unilateral Indian Country support like this. 
We’ve had chairmen, traditional chiefs, chairwomen, the leaders of the 
leaders of Indian Country, who have come to this camp. Also, we’ve had a 
lot of non-Native allies that are 100 percent supportive of the fight 
and struggle here because they see the connections. This fight right 
now, it’s about the water. And because the messaging is that water is 
life, so many people can connect with that. Whether you’re native or 
non-Native, whether you’re from Chicago or Detroit or New Orleans or up 
in the Bakken, we all understand the importance of protecting the water. 
That brings us together.

Indigenous Environmental Network, our organization, has been fighting 
Dakota Access for about two years, when they first applied for the state 
permits. In South Dakota, we were intervening in the Keystone XL stuff, 
and we saw Dakota Access come up. So we intervened on behalf of Standing 
Rock at the time. And even back then we had the Tribal Historic 
Preservation Office testify saying the court is not consulting with us: 
“We have not been consulted. There are sacred sites out there that they 
missed.” And that was two years ago. And look where we’re at now.

*van Gelder:* How many different tribal governments have come here to 
take an official stand?

*Goldtooth:* One hundred eighty-nine have had resolutions or statements 
of solidarity with Standing Rock. That’s amazing, historic. The crazy 
part is a lot of tribes that are heavily dependent on resource 
extraction have also come out in support. Three Affiliated Tribes—30 
percent of the Bakken oil shale is under their lands and they 
participate in. The Navajo Nation, who is heavily dependent on coal. The 
Crow Nation, which is all coal. All sent statements of solidarity and 
actually brought their presidents to this camp. It’s fascinating. It 
opens up a door for so more organizing to say, “Hey, you’re standing in 
solidarity with Standing Rock on this issue, can you stand in solidarity 
to keep fossil fuels in the ground, because that’s what really promotes 
projects like this.”

*van Gelder:* These issues around the destruction of the planet and the 
climate crisis affect everybody, and yet it's Native people who have 
really been at the forefront of getting stuff done.

How do you think about that?

*Goldtooth:* The “Keep It in the Ground” narrative is nothing new for 
indigenous peoples. The language “keep it in the ground” we first 
encountered over 15 years ago from relatives in the Global South—in 
Central and South America—and relatives up in northern Alberta in 
Canada, who were saying: The only solution forward is to keep it in the 
ground; regulation is not going to work; a more sustainable method of 
extraction is not going to work. We indigenous people have been saying 
keep fossil fuels in the ground from the get-go. Although it has been 
frustrating to see the climate movement overall be slow to adopt that, 
it’s also amazing and welcome now.

It is indigenous people who are often – though not all the time –on the 
frontlines of climate change. It is oftentimes indigenous people, poor 
people, forest-dependent nations, water-dependent nations—they’re the 
first ones to feel the rapid sea-level rise. Those communities, those 
nations are still dependent on subsistence lifestyles; they’re living 
off the land. Our relatives in the Arctic are feeling it, their entire 
livelihoods. Even if they wanted to have absolutely traditional food 
diets, they can no longer do that because the animals’ life patterns are 
completely altered.

So we at the Indigenous Environmental Network stand in strong defense 
and support of those communities’ rights to self-determine what happens 
to the lands, water, to the world around them. And not only are the 
frontlines the source of the fight, but that’s where the solutions are 
going to come from.

*van Gelder:* Say more about those solutions?

*Goldtooth:* The best part of the work we do is that it’s not what we’re 
fighting against but what we’re fighting for. We advocate for localized, 
small-scale renewable energy production. The same with food production, 
localized and sustainable. That’s the path forward that we have to take. 
The process to achieve that is all housed under the concepts of a just 
transition: We have to be mindful that even if we transition to 100 
percent renewables, it doesn’t necessarily mean that society is just, it 
doesn’t necessarily guarantee that poor communities will have access to 
basic needs. When we talk about this transition, we have to make sure 
it’s in line with the principles of social justice and environmental 

*van Gelder:* It’s seems that there’s a values shift that may be 
happening, that indigenous folks are modeling, that there’s something 
more important than industrial production.

*Goldtooth:* There is some truth to the fact that indigenous communities 
in their traditional formats are often good models. When they’re in line 
with their original instructions, they’re often good examples of what 
healthy sustainable stewardship looks like, of what healthy 
relationships look like. We have to really encourage our allies, 
ourselves, to renew that relationship, to relearn how we enjoy and 
experience and communicate with the world around us and each other.

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