My account of Standing Rock water-protectors in Greater Park Hill Community News

       The Greater Park Hill Community News, edited by Cara Degette,  has published since 1961.  Park Hill, a vibrant and pretty integrated community, is one where I lived for a long time.  2 longer articles of mine, emphasizing the importance of sacred stones and sacred land, appeared in the Daily Beast here and in Who.What.Why here.


Firsthand Account At Standing Rock


 · by  · in 
Efforts To Halt Oil Pipeline, And Destruction of Sacred Lands
By Alan Gilbert, Photos by Paula Bard, Special to the GPHN
On April 1, some 70 men and women from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota, erected an encampment on private land owned by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard. They were there, on what they hold to be sacred land, to protest the poisoning of their water – water that they hold to be equally sacred.
11-16-standing-rock-111-16-standing-rock-camp11-16-standing-rock-bulldozers-211-16-standing-rock-bulldozers-111-16-standing-rock-marchingWithout consulting the Sioux tribes, a conglomerate oil company in Texas—Energy Transfer Partners—had gotten permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP), an oil pipeline that would run near the reservation and beneath the Missouri River, the reservation’s sole source of water.
11-16-standing-rock-5The Dakota and Lakota tribes have long lived in this territory. Here, led by Sitting Bull and Red Cloud, they fought off the U.S. Army and were defeated after long battles. Here, on Sept. 3, 1863, the army committed the Whitestone Massacre of 300 men, women, and children. The tribes still hold treaty rights to this land. Their ancestors are buried here.
11-16-standing-rock-flagBut the Lakota were not consulted by the Army Corps of Engineers, either about their gravesites nor the waters, in the most recent plan to build an oil pipeline.
The pipeline was originally supposed to go above Bismarck, in territory mainly inhabited by whites. But the company shifted it to go south through Standing Rock, crossing under Lake Oahe (part of the Missouri River) and the Missouri twice.
The Sacred Land encampment is a vibrant, spiritual place. It had grown into a second camp of some 2,000 people on nearby public land by the time we arrived on Aug. 30. Over the weekend, the numbers swelled. According to news reports, some 3,000 to 4,000 protesters were encamped at the site.
Since April, word about protecting the waters has spread, and many indigenous peoples have sent support. As you enter Red Warrior camp, the flags of 154 tribes flutter along both sides of the road. People come locally and from as far away as Manitoba, Sasketchwan, California, Oklahoma, and Minnesota.
Here, water does not just give life. Water is an extension of the people. Mni Wiconi is the Lakota phrase: “Water is life.”
11-16-standing-rock-6We spent five days with the land protectors (they do not call themselves protesters, but protectors or defenders). We listened to drumming and prayer songs, sometimes late into the night. We met three Cheyenne and Arapaho women who had just driven 15 hours from Oklahoma, and a man from Minnesota who had been at Standing Rock for a week, gone away, and had just returned.
11-16-standing-rock-2We heard a Minnesota woman who lived near Lake Superior speak about how when she was growing up, you could catch and eat a fish every day. One day, her grandfather warned that there would be a fight over the purity of the water. This had seemed unimaginable to her, the water blue or gray, shifting with sun or clouds.
Now, the waters are murkier, and a pregnant woman may eat only one fish caught in the lake in nine months.
The Lakota is also a women’s culture, so there were two large circle prayer meetings of women while we were there. One went down to the river. The other lifted its voice to the pure waters in the sky. Women sought the maintenance of the Missouri and Lake Oahe for children, grandchildren, and seven generations to come.
In April, young Lakotas said they would not acquiesce to oil pipes under the water. At one evening gathering, a Pawnee counselor who had worked for 12 years to prevent teenage suicides told of the vibrancy and initiative of the runners who spoke to Congress about the DAP.
When the Lakota people pray and sing, they speak naturally of the earth, the mother. The water and the land are given by grandfather spirit—tunkashila in Lakota—to make the life of all tribes, animals, and humans good. Tim Mentz, an elder, spoke of the understandings and instructions, passed through the grandmothers, of 19 generations. And Dave Archambault, Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman, said that the prayers, which began in April, had yielded guidance, as the elders conjured a vision of a nonviolent resistance movement to protect the water.
Despite dispossession from the lands, the ethnic cleansing, the treaties broken by the U.S. government, and the associated trans-generational trauma, the people at the encampment display an immediate, rich sense of the continuity of their ancestors and the sacredness of the earth.
As 13-year-old Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer put it in a petition: “Oil companies keep telling us that this is perfectly safe, but we’ve learned that that’s a lie: from 2012-2013 alone, there were 300 oil pipeline breaks in the state of North Dakota. With such a high chance that this pipeline will leak, I can only guess that the oil industry keeps pushing for it because they don’t care about our health and safety. It’s like they think our lives are more expendable than others.”
A substantial leak would poison the waters all the way down to where the Missouri flows into the Mississippi, all the way down to Mexico.
Many of us drink the Missouri’s water, and most of the country eats the crops grown in the region. This pipeline threatens every American.
Editor’s Note: Alan Gilbert is a Distinguished Professor of International Studies at the University of Denver. Paula Bard is a fine-art photographer. They traveled to the Sacred Stone encampment in North Dakota, where efforts are underway to save the waters of the Missouri and sacred gravesites from destruction by the Dakota Access Pipeline. A version of this account first appeared in the online magazine Who.What.Why. In late October, more than 100 protectors were arrested at a peaceful march after they were confronted by police in riot gear. Hundreds of defenders are getting ready to settle in for the winter.