I have been very moved by the current historical gathering of tribes in North Dakota. Thousands of Native Americans from more than 100 tribes and their non-native supporters have come together to peacefully protect the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s land and water from the Dakota Access Pipeline Project. According to tribal chairman Dave Archambault II, they object to the bulldozing of burial grounds and sacred archeological sites as well as plans to place the oil pipeline under the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of drinking water. The tribes’ unifying call to action is “Water is Life.”
The oil company’s security forces have used trained attack dogs, pepper spray, and Mace to intimidate tribe members, and North Dakota’s governor has called in the state’s National Guard as a precautionary measure. Memories of Kent State and the National Guard make me fear for the tribe members’ safety. The latest federal ruling ordered that Dakota Access cannot drill under the river until the Army Corps reevaluates its permits. The tribes have vowed to continue their occupation to permanently stop the project.
Why does the government of this nation so often fall short in protecting its true founding fathers and mothers? Why have the people of this nation cared so little about the indignities committed against Native Americans? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they are not white? Is this the same prejudice that is directed towards Blacks, Latinos, and other minorities in America?
I recall a 2003 public meeting at a church hall in Sonoma where members of the Graton Rancheria answered questions about their proposal to build a casino on Highway 37 south of town, certainly outside the city limits. The atmosphere was confrontational as the good citizens of Sonoma expressed their vehement opposition to the tribe’s plan. In fact, at the end of the meeting, the panel members were escorted out the back door to avoid the shouting and anger directed at them. It was frightening, and I didn’t understand the hostility. I have not witnessed quite the same vitriolic opposition to the hotels, event centers, and tasting rooms even closer to town that have since been built or proposed by developers. Did the tribe present a cultural threat because a historically impoverished and powerless population would suddenly have money and power?
I don’t gamble. I’ve been to the subsequently constructed casino in Rohnert Park only once, but I’ve noticed that the Graton Rancheria tribe has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the community’s public services, nonprofits, and scholarships in addition to providing jobs and support for their own membership. I don’t think their efforts were deserving of such animosity from Sonoma.
Having lived through the 60’s Civil Rights Movement, Chicano Movement, Feminist Movement, and Alcatraz Occupation, I thought we would have evolved further by now, and this type of oppression against people of color, whether red, brown, or black, would no longer be tolerated. Instead, I have watched in horror as the current presidential campaign has fanned the flames of reactionary hatred in 2016.
As the size of the Dakota tribal gathering grows, Amnesty International and the United Nations have called for the fair treatment of Indigenous people as they strive to protect their land and resources. It appears that the United States’ history of broken treaties and desecration of its first people and of the earth itself has reached a critical impasse. I listen hopefully as Cody Hall, South Dakota Cheyenne River Sioux tribal nation member and spokesman for Red Warrior Camp, explains, “This isn’t one tribe or many tribal people saying it’s their movement. It’s everybody’s movement.” I agree. The time has come for all people to take their rightful place at the table. Access updates and live video reports at facebook.com/RedWarriorCamp or www.democracynow.org.