[News] Fighting for Our Lives: #NoDAPL in Historical Context

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Sep 19 11:53:51 EDT 2016


  Fighting for Our Lives: #NoDAPL in Historical Context

*by Nick Estes - September 18, 2016


*by Nick Estes*

Little has been written about the historical relationship between the 
movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the longer histories of 
Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation) resistance against the trespass 
of settlers, dams, and pipelines across the Mni Sose, the Missouri 
River. This is a short analysis of the historical and political context 
of the #NoDAPL movement and the transformative possibilities of the 
current struggle.

Thousands have camped along the banks of the Missouri River at Cannon 
Ball in the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation to halt the 
construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which promises to 
carry half a million barrels of heavy crude oil a day across four 
states, under the Missouri River twice, and under the Mississippi River 
toward the Gulf of Mexico for global export. Camp Oceti Sakowin, Red 
Warrior Camp, and Sacred Stone Camp, the various Native-led groups 
standing in unity against DAPL, have brought together the largest, 
mass-gathering of Natives and allies in more than a century, all on land 
and along a river the Army Corps of Engineers claims sole jurisdiction 
and authority over.

How and why did this happen?

In 1803 the wasicu — the fat-takers, the settlers, the capitalists — 
claimed this stretch of the river as part of what became the largest 
real estate transaction in world history. The fledgling U.S. settler 
state “bought” 827 million acres from the French Crown in the Louisiana 
Purchase and sent two white explorers, Lewis and Clark, to claim and map 
the newly acquired territory. None of the Native Nations west of the 
Mississippi consented to the sale of their lands to a sovereign they 
neither recognized nor viewed as superior. It was only after we rebuffed 
Lewis and Clark for failing to pay tribute for their passage on our 
river that they labeled the Oceti Sakowin “the vilest miscreants of the 
savage race.” Thus began one of the longest and most hotly contested 
struggles in the history of the world.

louisiana_purchaseThe Louisiana Purchase

For the next hundred years, the U.S. led various unsuccessful military 
campaigns to suppress, annihilate, and dispossess us of our rightful 
claim to the river and our lands. Despite popular belief, we were never 
militarily defeated. Red Cloud’s War and the War for the Black Hills led 
to the military defeat of the U.S. Calvary, most famously the 
annihilation of General George Armstrong Custer’s forces at the Battle 
of Greasy Grass in 1876. These wars, for our part, were entirely 
defensive. The Oceti Sakowin signed peace treaties with the invading 
settler government. The 1854 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties provided 
temporary reprieve and defined the vast 25-million-acre territory of 
what became the Great Sioux Reservation, which stretched from the 
eastern shore of the Missouri River to the Bighorn Mountains. Four 
decades of intense warfare, however, took its toll. More than ten 
million buffalo were slaughtered to starve us out. Settler hordes 
invaded and pillaged our Black Hills for its gold. Our vast land base 
diminished and the treaties were nullified when Congress passed the 
Indian Appropriations Act of 1876, which abolished treaty-making with 
Native Nations, and the Black Hills Act of 1877, which illegally ceded 
the Black Hills and created the present-day reservation system.

The Oceti Sakowin has vigorously opposed these bald imperialistic 
maneuvers to usurp our self-determining authority over our lives and 
lands. Settler society entreated the Oceti Sakowin for the 1854 and 1868 
agreements, not the other way around. We entered these relationships 
with the understanding that both parties respected a common humanity 
with the people and the lands. In our view, the settler state lost its 
humanity when it violated the treaties. Every act on our part to recover 
and reclaim our lives and land and to resist elimination is an attempt 
to recuperate that lost humanity — humanity this settler state refuses 
and denies even to its own.

1868-treaty-map-optimized1868 Fort Laramie Treaty Territory

South Dakota and North Dakota statehood also played a major role in 
suppressing the Oceti Sakowin. Although we have never signed any 
treaties with these states, they lay claim to the destinies of our 
lands, our river, and our people. To do so, they have always used 
violence and hatred. In 1890, a year after statehood, these two states 
drummed up anti-Indian sentiment to further break up and open 
reservation lands for settlement. As a result, they fabricated the Ghost 
Dance crisis; called for federal troops to intervene to protect white 
property that resulted in the assassination of our military and 
political leaders such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull; and resulted in 
the killing of over 300 mostly unarmed women, children, and elders at 
Wounded Knee in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Outright murder was never enough. The Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 and 
the creation of five smaller reservations attempted to factionalize the 
Oceti Sakowin and opened up “surplus” lands to white homesteaders. From 
1907 to 1934, millions of acres of the remaining Great Sioux Reservation 
were lost. In the early 1900s, Missouri River Basin states began 
organizing to usurp Native water rights for large-scale irrigation 
projects. These states envisioned a dam system that would create large 
reservoirs that would primarily flood Native lands. But there was a 
major problem. In 1908, a U.S. Supreme Court decision held that tribes 
maintained access and control of water within original treaty territory, 
even if that territory was diminished. This became known as the Winters 
Doctrine. For the Missouri River, the Oceti Sakowin possessed the prior 
claim to both the river and its shorelines as spelled out in the 1851 
and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties.

souix-reservations-mapHistoric and present day treaty lands

An opportunity for the states arose. After unseasonal mass flooding, 
Congress passed the Flood Control Act in 1944 — or what became known as 
the Pick-Sloan Plan authorizing the Army Corps of Engineers and the 
Bureau of Reclamation to erect five dams on the mainstem of the river. 
All of which targeted and disproportionately destroyed Native lands and 
lives. Of the five Pick-Sloan dams, four flooded the lands of seven 
nations of the Oceti Sakowin: the Santee Sioux Tribe, the Yankton Sioux 
Tribe, the Sicangu Oyate, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, the Crow Creek 
Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and the Standing Rock Sioux 
Tribe. Of the 611,642 condemned acres through eminent domain in what was 
called the “taking area,” these nations lost 309,584 acres of vital 
bottomlands. Inundation also forced more than a thousand Native 
families, in patent violation of treaties and without their consent, to 
relocate. Entire communities were removed to marginal reservation lands, 
and many were forced to leave the reservation entirely. As a result of 
condemnation, the Army Corps of Engineers claims sole jurisdiction over 
the river and its shoreline.

pick-sloan_planPick-Sloan Dams

The dams, which promised and delivered wholesale destruction, coincided 
and worked in tandem with the federal policies of termination and 
relocation. In 1953, Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 108 
(HCR 108) that inaugurated termination policy, and called for the 
immediate termination or ended federal recognition of the Flathead, 
Klamath, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribes. 
That same year, Congress passed Public Law 280 (PL 280) that authorized 
states to assume criminal and civil jurisdiction over Native lands. The 
Bureau of Indian Affairs supported these programs and carried out the 
Indian Relocation Act of 1956 that relocated thousands from the 
reservation to far-off urban centers. HCR 108, PL 280, relocation, and 
the Pick-Sloan dams did not just promote assimilation — they enforced 
genocide and elimination.

Through termination, relocation, and massive flooding, however, 
colonialism created its own gravediggers. The Oceti Sakowin unified to 
thwart the state of South Dakota’s attempts to implement PL 280 to 
overthrow Native governments and assume control over their lands. 
Natives on relocation also began to organize. Groups such as the 
National Indian Youth Council and the American Indian Movement (AIM) 
formed in the urban centers to combat the wholesale destruction of 
Native life on- and off-reservation. In 1973, AIM occupied Wounded Knee 
in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which was a culmination of more 
than a decade of Red Power organizing. The occupation was the catalyst 
for a mass gathering of thousands at Standing Rock in 1974, which 
resulted in the founding of the International Indian Treaty Council. At 
Standing Rock, more than 90 Native Nations from around the world built 
the foundations of what would become four decades of work at the United 
Nations and the basis for the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of 
Indigenous Peoples.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-1-06-43-amThe International Indian Treaty 
Council, the international arm of the American Indian Movement, was 
founded at Standing Rock in 1974.

The anti-colonial uprising taking place in Oceti Sakowin treaty 
territory and spilling onto the world stage was met with violent state 
repression. AIM leaders were assassinated and many were imprisoned. For 
example, Native leader Leonard Peltier, who participated in this 
movement for the life and dignity of his people, to this day sits behind 
bars as one of the longest serving political prisoners in United States 
history. From 1977 to 2012 South Dakota’s prison population increased 
500 percent. One-third of its prison population is Native, although 
Natives make up only nine percent of the total population.

With the advent of tarsands extraction and heavy crude pipelines 
destroying water supplies and scorching the earth, Natives and the Oceti 
Sakowin have once again reunited. This unification first targeted 
tarsands and pipeline construction in so-called Canada in First Nations’ 
territory. Successful blockades have halted pipelines. In 2014, the 
Oceti Sakowin began a massive organizing effort, with help from allies, 
against the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline that, too, threatened to cross 
the Missouri River. Our Nation is made up of some of the poorest people 
in the Western hemisphere organizing to oppose a fossil fuel industry 
made up of some of the most powerful and wealthiest people on the 
planet. Despite these odds KXL was defeated on November 6, 2015. After 
mass protests, the Obama administration denied the pipeline’s permit.

Two important lessons were drawn from the KXL struggle that were carried 
into #NoDAPL. The power of multinational unity between Natives and 
non-Natives was one of the movement’s successes. The other proved the 
transformative power and potential of anti-colonial resistance to 
successfully mobilize poor people against the rich and powerful — and win!

img_0719The Red Nation riders at the #NoDAPL camp.

Like our ancestors’ wars of the nineteenth century, our current war is 
also defensive — it is to protect water and land from inevitable 
spoliation in the name of profit. The #NoDAPL movement is explicitly 
nonviolent, which accounts for its mass appeal to Native and non-Native 
communities. In spite of this, political violence as a tactic of state 
repression has emerged against water protectors who engage in nonviolent 
direct action to disrupt the construction of the pipeline /as well as 
/those not engaged in direct actions. Natives at or near camp — whether 
involved in direct actions or not — are also targets for surveillance 
and repression. The camp and the Standing Rock reservation are under 
constant surveillance. The reason: Native bodies stand between 
corporations and their money. Halting the accumulation of capital, which 
in this context is the exploitation of our river and lands, has piqued 
settler ire and spite.

The prolonged peaceful encampment practices an unsettling 
counter-sovereignty. It has drawn the support and solidarity of more 
than 200 Native Nations and countless thousands of allied forces 
sending a clear message to corporate interests: North Dakota cannot 
manage its Indians and the “Indian Problem” is out of control. After 
all, controlling the “Indian Problem” has always meant 
maintaining unrestricted access to Native lands and resources and 
keeping Indians silent, out of view, and factionalized. At Standing 
Rock, an unarmed, nonviolent prayer camp poses such a serious threat to 
settler proprietary claims that North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, 
who has direct ties to the oil and gas industry, has deployed the full 
force of the Highway Patrol and the National Guards. These forces are 
not there to service an impoverished Native community or protect the 
integrity of the land and river. They are there to carry out the will of 
DAPL backers Energy Transfer Partners, some of the richest and most 
powerful people in the world who have used attack dogs against unarmed, 
nonviolent water protectors. More than 60 have been arrested, including 
journalists. Violent state repression has not ceased.

img_0915The #NoDAPL “United Nations” of Native Nation flags

The Army Corps of Engineers, who maintains jurisdiction over the river 
in violation of the 1854 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties, claims it holds 
the final say about whether the DAPL can cross the Missouri River. The 
#NoDAPL encampment, in an exercise in Native sovereignty, sits atop 
lands claimed by the Corps, who only recently “permitted” the camp’s 
presence. On September 9, the Department of Interior, the Department of 
Justice, and the Corps also issued a joint statement halting — for now 
— the construction of the pipeline under the Missouri River as the 
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s case against DAPL will be considered and 
reviewed. This was a victory — a temporary halt of construction at a key 
site — and proof that this enemy, no matter how powerful, violent, or 
spiteful, too, can be defeated if Native people refuse to back down and 
continue to act in unity and cooperation. While construction halted 
under the river, it continues everywhere else. So too do direct actions. 
So too does the peaceful encampment. And so too must our focus and 
support on #NoDAPL. The encampment will remain until the pipeline is 
completely defeated.

Oceti Sakowin and Native resistance, as it has for centuries, will also 
continue until our common enemy is defeated.

IMG_0861.jpgThe Red Nation delegation at the #NoDAPL camp

Early lessons from this ongoing struggle can be drawn to help strategize 
future possibilities:

  * The colonial state does not possess, and never has possessed, the
    moral high ground. It defends corporate access to Native lands and
    uses violence as a political tactic to maintain its contested
    authority over the land. The North Dakota National Guard has never
    in its history been deployed in force against an unarmed “domestic”
    population– until now. The National Guard and the Highway Patrol
    protect corporate interests and enforce the colonial state’s
    monopoly on violence against the most vulnerable and marginalized
    populations – Native people.

  * The prayer camp has galvanized multinational unity, primarily
    mobilizing everyday people in defense of Native sovereignty,
    self-determination, and treaty rights.

  * Treaty rights, and by default Native sovereignty, protect everyone’s
    rights. In this case, they protect a vital fresh water source for
    millions – the Missouri River.

  * #NoDAPL anti-colonial struggle is profoundly anti-capitalist. It is
    the frontline. It is the future.

  * The profits that corporations like Energy Transfer Corporation reap
    from colonial projects like the DAPL should be seized and used to
    repair damage to the land and river. With this also comes a
    long-term goal to restore the Missouri River to its rightful
    protectors – the Oceti Sakowin – and its natural path. This means
    the Army Corps of Engineers must relinquish its claim to the river
    and begin to demolish the Pick-Sloan dams so that the river and its
    people may once again live.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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