By Winona LaDuke
Special to News From Indian Country and Everybody Else
Standing Rock is an unpredicted history lesson for all of us. More than any moment I recall since Wounded Knee, the Vietnam War, or the time of Martin Luther King, this moment stands as a crossroads in the battle for social justice. It is also an economic issue, in a time of economic system transformation, and profoundly a question of the future of this land. The world is watching.
As the US Army Corps of Engineers issues a December 5 eviction notice for thousands of people gathered on the banks of the Missouri River, we face our truth. Those people at the Oceti Sakowin and Red Warrior Camps, along with the 550 people who have been arrested so far, are really the only thing standing between a river and a corporation that wants to pollute it. That we know, because absent any legal protections, and with a regulatory system hijacked by oil interests and a federal government in crisis, the people and the river remain the only clear and sentient beings.
In short, this is a moment of extreme corporate rights and extreme racism confronted by courage, prayers, and resolve. This moment has been coming. The violence and the economics of a failing industry will indeed unravel, and this is the beginning.
The Deep North
North Dakota did not become Alabama – or the Deep North, as it is now called – overnight. Native people in North Dakota have been treated poorly for more than a hundred years, whether by the damming of the Missouri and the flooding of millions of acres of tribal land, or by poverty and incarceration, North Dakota is a place of systemic and entrenched racism.
Two of the poorest counties in the country are on Standing Rock, Native people comprise almost a fourth of the people in prison, Native suicide rates are ten times that of North Dakotans, infrastructure (like the fifty year old hospital with four doctors for 8000 people, and a now blocked Highway l806, without a shoulder) is at an all-time low, and people freeze to death and overdose in the shadow of the Bakken Oil fields.
That’s the first layer of abuse, aside from the day to day racism, emboldened by Morton County and the incoming Trump government. It is visible for the world to see now.
For many who come, North Dakota is something unknown. Americans fly over the state, talk about how the movie Fargo was funny, and wonder sheepishly about how it’s working out in the Bakken. Very few visit, and there is almost no civil society to advocate for the environment or the people.
Let me put it this way, until this year, the Sierra Club had one staff person in North Dakota, and the American Civil Liberties Union had one staff member covering both North and South Dakota. It is as if North Dakota is just too uncomfortable for a progressive movement to visit or work in. Instead, we have watched.
After all, the sex trafficking, violence, and corruption has overwhelmed most of the state’s capacity to address it, and a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences found widespread groundwater contamination in the fracking fields.
For North Dakotans it has become just how it is… That is to say: accommodating corporations is the North Dakota way. This last year, North Dakota health officials excused more oil spills without penalty, and increased the allowable levels of radiation in municipal and county dumps to accommodate the fracking industry. The corporations direct state policy. It’s been easy to put it out of mind because after all, it seems so far away when we view the world from our television or smartphone.
In the midst of this, we find ourselves facing a larger set of forces. As of November 18, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department inventoried their troops at 1,287 deputies, including police from 25 North Dakota counties, 20 North Dakota cities, and 9 states (Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming). Over 550 people have been arrested, many of them strip searched and cavity searched for misdemeanor charges, and a number of them held overnight in dog kennels. Now the state has fired on unarmed people who want to protect the water from contamination.
After all, that’s what this is about. To serve the convenience of a deadline for Energy Transfer Partners’s corporate profits, the police have fired teargas canisters, water hoses, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tasers, and bean bag rounds at unarmed people trying to protect their water supply. Most of them are Native, and the North Dakota media has continued to portray the water protectors as outlaws.
When 21 year old New York resident Sophia Wilansky’s arm was blown off by a concussion grenade, Morton County Sheriff Kirchenmeir suggested that the water protectors caused it. KEEP READING: The Beginning is Near: The Deep North, Evictions and Pipeline Deadlines – Indian Country News