[News] This Moment at Standing Rock Was Decades in the Making

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Sep 19 13:27:16 EDT 2016


  This Moment at Standing Rock Was Decades in the Making

Jenni Monet posted Sep 16, 2016

Attack dogs and waves of arrests by police in riot gear could look like 
isolated incidents of overreaction to the activism stemming from the 
Standing Rock reservation. But for the Lakota Sioux who live in these 
marginalized hillsides, the escalated militarization behind their battle 
against the Dakota Access pipeline is a situation decades in the making.

    Many people of Standing Rock are not surprised by the extreme
    response of law enforcement against activists.

North Dakota is not the whitest state in America, but it’s arguably the 
most segregated. More than 60 percent of its largest minority 
population, Native Americans, lives on or near reservations. Native men 
are incarcerated or unemployed at some of the highest rates in the 
country. Poverty levels for families of the Standing Rock tribe are five 
times that of residents living in the capital city, Bismarck. In Cannon 
Ball, the heart of the tribal community, there are rows of weathered 
government homes, but no grocery store. Tucked behind a lonely highway, 
this is where mostly white farmers and ranchers shuttle to and from 
homesteads once belonging to the Sioux.

Add to that a contempt that many Native Americans say they feel from 
North Dakotans and particularly from police, and many people of Standing 
Rock are not surprised by the extreme response of law enforcement 
against activists.

“We’ve run on empty for a number of generations,” said Phyllis Young, a 
former tribal councilwoman for the Standing Rock Sioux, the community 
that’s vowed to stop the pipeline in its path. “But now we’re taking a 
stand. We are reaching a pinnacle, a peak.”

The initial occupation began in April, but since early August people 
from across Indian Country, and now the world, have turned up every day 
by the hundreds to protest ongoing construction—even if it means 
confronting angry workers, lines of riot police, attack dogs, and jail time.

North Dakota, a state of nearly 740,000 people, is similar to other 
conservative states with sizable Native American populations, places 
like Arizona and Oklahoma, where natural resource extractions have 
terribly harmed indigenous land—like the uranium mining fallout across 
the Navajo Nation or the lead contamination on lands leased by the 
Quapaws. Yet where these environmental ordeals did not so much draw the 
kind of activism now swelling at Standing Rock today, they have 
similarly intensified attention to the greater systemic problems that 
exist whenever ancestral tribal lands are targeted for energy development.

For North Dakotans unaware of this context, the battle against the 
Dakota Access pipeline has caught them off guard.

“The outsiders coming in, we feel, are bringing this unrest,” said Ron 
Ness, a multigenerational North Dakotan. “Certainly it’s not the norm of 
the tribal nations to do business here and who we all know and who we 
are neighbors with.”

Ness, who is president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, represents 
the state’s overwhelming conservative view of the protests—a combination 
of annoyance and anxiety—that illustrates the historic and cultural 
divisions of the Northern Plains.


One thing all parties seem agree on, directly or indirectly, is that 
this oil pipeline is not wanted around water supplies. But whose water 

An early proposal of the Dakota Access pipeline once examined a route 
that would have extended the multibillion-dollar project 10 miles north 
of Bismarck. But the company, along with the U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers, rejected it, opting for a plan that would snake a portion 92 
feet below the Missouri River, directly under Standing Rock’s main water 

The Corps had evaluated the Bismarck route and determined it was not a 
viable option. One reason: The route posed a potential threat to the 
city’s water supply. Municipal water wells were at risk, according to 
the agency’s environmental assessment. Meanwhile, the Corps stated that 
the initial route would have been difficult to stay 500 or more feet 
away from homes, as state regulations required. That’s when the agency 
recommended the path of the pipeline traverse the Missouri River 
underneath land belonging to the Corps, an easement less than half a 
mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

The tribe argued environmental consequences would be grave if the nearly 
1,200-mile pipeline, transporting 450,000 barrels of Bakken crude a day, 
were to leak. Standing Rock is now suing the Corps on claims that the 
agency inadequately consulted with them prior to approving the pipeline 
project. The tribe is appealing the recent federal ruling denying its 
request to stop construction. “We’re prepared to face the court,” 
Phyllis Young said. “We have an ambitious agenda.”

Meanwhile, defending the pipeline in North Dakota lately has evolved 
into routine theater.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has so far arrested as many as 69 
people for what it described as illegal protest activities. On Thursday 
three men attached themselves to construction equipment. Many of those 
arrested have been charged with criminal trespassing. The majority are 
people who reside in other states. At least two were booked with 
identification from communities in Canada.

Morton County State’s Attorney’s office filed charges against four 
activists involved in the tense clashes of September 3, where private 
security guards hired by Dakota Access and its partner, Energy Transfer 
Partners, used attack dogs and pepper spray against protestors. The 
demonstration, which was video-recorded by Amy Goodman of Democracy 
Now!, effectively stopped pipeline construction for the day. The 
affidavit, including charges filed against Goodman, came in direct 
response to Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s call to seek reimbursement from anyone 
who costs the government money from their civil disobedience. That 
threat was made the same day the Republican governor activated the 
National Guard.

This week, Kolette Ostlund, a deputy court clerk of the North Central 
Judicial District Office in Minot, North Dakota, received a formal 
warning for her Facebook comment made over the Labor Day weekend. The 
September 5 rant about the pipeline battle began: “Solution: let them 
keep their sacred land. Go around their water and burial grounds. It 
obviously means a lot to them and they should have it ... Then ... Stop 
the monthly checks and ALL the government payouts! Stop all the 
subsidies and hand-outs. Done!”

She added, “The government has paid out enough over the last few hundred 
years. Enough is enough!”


At Sacred Stone Camp, where as many as 2,000 people have journeyed to 
pitch teepees or tents to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock 
Sioux, Ashley Thunder Hawk stood in the wet grass and soft mud wearing a 
single white flip-flop. “The other one broke,” she laughed, wondering 
out loud how she would make her way around the camp.

“There is racism,” said Thunder Hawk, a lifelong resident of Cannon 
Ball. “We get treated shitty on our own piece of land, but at the same 
time we go on the other side and it’s worse. We get treated really shitty.”

In recent months, Thunder Hawk said, she’d given up on plans to move off 
the reservation and into the nearby community of Mandan or Bismarck. A 
felony record made getting a job and renting an apartment seem next to 
impossible. For now, her focus was on exercising extreme willpower, to 
ward off drugs, to resist alcohol, and to ignore a wave of negativity 
that seemingly permeates the reservation. The 24-year-old mother could 
count the days of her sobriety: six months and 13 days. Ron Yellow Jr., 
the father of her only child, was on the same healthy path.

In Thunder Hawk’s world, practicing sheer determination is even 
difficult to do. “If you want to go somewhere, you gotta drive maybe 
50-60 miles north to have fun or something, you know?” She paused and 
shifted her weight onto her naked foot.

Yellow Jr., 37, added, “It’s why a lot of people say that we’re stuck here.”

The social problems, many tribal residents say, began when treaties were 
broken and ancestral lands were lost to colonizers.

The existing land base of the Standing Rock Sioux was determined by the 
Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. When the U.S. government claimed victory 
11 years later, following the Great Sioux War, the terms of that treaty 
were amended. Threatened by starvation, the tribe, under duress, ceded a 
great deal of Laramie land to the federal government. In partial 
recognition of this painful history, modern federal Indian law today 
accords certain rights to tribes, including entitlement programs linked 
to health care, housing, education, and even gaming.

But even with these concessions, reservation life across Indian Country 
is often bleak and exacerbated by a disconnection from political power 
or voice.

Consider North Dakota’s strict voter-ID law.

Chase Iron Eyes, the first Lakota Sioux to run for the state’s only 
congressional seat, said he has witnessed many Native American voters 
being denied access to the polls. North Dakota doesn’t have a voter 
registration system. Instead, the state has required residents to 
provide valid identification. Polling precincts have accepted driver’s 
licenses and state-issued identity cards, as well as identification from 
North Dakota’s federally recognized Indian tribes.

But there’s one catch: All IDs must have a current address.

“In Indian Country we all know damn well that we don’t have physical 
addresses,” said Iron Eyes.  The 38-year-old attorney and member of the 
Standing Rock Sioux tribe is running for Congress, challenging incumbent 
Kevin Cramer, a Republican, who’s been the U.S. representative for North 
Dakota’s at-large congressional district since 2013.

“I never had a physical address until I came back from law school,” Iron 
Eyes continued. “Our whole lives we have P.O. boxes, and so this is 
something that in the law we have to prove discriminatory intent.”

In August, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that will 
make it easier for Native Americans to cast their ballots in the 
upcoming general election. But the court ruling didn’t strike down the 
2013 law. With only weeks left before Election Day, North Dakota’s 
secretary of state vowed to review the issue during the next legislative 
session, in early 2017. Like so many voter-ID laws nationwide, the North 
Dakota statute was passed by a Republican-led legislature that claimed a 
need to curb statewide voter fraud.

“If Native people don’t vote, what you get are instituted roadblocks and 
military-style checkpoints,” Iron Eyes said, referring to the National 
Guardsmen staked out along Highway 1806, a direct response to the 
pipeline protests.

Iron Eyes faces an enormous political battle.

    What happens here once the pipeline battle ends? 

To begin, his opponent can outspend him by nearly a million dollars. 
(T-shirt sales have been a humble fundraising approach for the Iron Eyes 
for Congress campaign.) The Democratic National Party will not formally 
endorse him. With only around $40,000 in campaign coffers, he lacks the 
money to interest the DNC.

And so Iron Eyes must rely on a vast Native American turnout to come 
even close to a win. Most tribal members are too poor to donate. Voting, 
at least, is free.

To be sure, North Dakota is a state dominated by Republican influence.

During North Dakota’s GOP convention last April, Cramer was among the 
first to endorse Donald Trump. It was a show of support soon followed by 
the state’s governor, who now sits on Trump’s newly created agricultural 
advisory committee.

The state’s Democratic senator, Heidi Heitkamp, is an advocate for 
Native American programs in North Dakota. But she has remained mostly 
silent on action swirling around  Dakota Access. On Thursday, though, 
she was compelled to respond after online threats were made by the 
hacker group Anonymous, targeting North Dakota lawmakers and law 

“Threats of violence cloaked in anonymity never have and never will have 
any place in North Dakota,” Heitkamp’s statement read.

That Anonymous has entered the fight for indigenous rights at Standing 
Rock, whether the occupation’s organizers like it or not, helps amplify 
a very simple narrative: “We decided to stand with Native Americans 
whose lands you raped, whose sacred lands you destroyed,” said its video 
mostly addressed to Gov. Darymple.

Despite the passionate and widespread support for the Standing Rock 
Sioux’s position, the outlook for defeating a pipeline is grim.

The very fact that the tribal community is situated in the state’s 
poorest county, Sioux County, prompts the question: What happens here 
once the pipeline battle ends?

Systemic poverty that has gripped this tribe goes beyond a lack of 
money. It involves often young lives burdened early by hopelessness, 
homelessness, alcoholism, and chronic suicide. More than half of Cannon 
Ball’s students drop out of school.

Addressing areas of insecurity would do Standing Rock justice. Despite 
its position on the prairie, it’s a virtual desert—of data, healthy 
foods, digital technology, political representation.

“Fear of racism, it’s alive and well in the Dakotas,” said spiritual 
leader Arvol Looking Horse about the sentiments among the Lakota. “And 
today, it’s even gotten worse because of our political leaders.”

Looking Horse was the elder who led a ceremonial blessing for President 
Obama during his visit to the Standing Rock Reservation in 2014. 
“Americans don’t even know that we exist today,” he continued.

“But finally, the world is watching,” he said

“We have no choice but to stand on prayer and peace and unity, because 
in our circle there’s no ending and beginning.  We are all equal.”

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