(My Standing Rock posts are a diary of two trips James and I took to Standing Rock as, with the backing of our church, we protested the Dakota Access Pipeline. The first four posts come from around Labor Day, 2016. The remaining posts come from around Thanksgiving, 2016.)
Somebody keeps pulling the fire alarm in the Prairie Knights Casino hotel. This is where the journalists sleep, as well as the tribal folks with elders, as well as people like us who can’t sleep in the 25-degree weather, or at least who want a break from it all. The fire alarm goes off for maybe ten seconds. The elevators stop. The emergency doors shut. Travelers look up from their phones, or their slot machines, or their Thanksgiving turkey, and they go about their business.
If you look a bit online, you’ll find a piece from Democracy Now! about a brush fire that somebody set near the main Standing Rock protest camp, on October 30. Protestors “say they called 911, but no emergency teams responded. They also say the surveillance planes and helicopters, which have been flying almost constantly over the region in recent weeks, stopped flying about two hours before the fire began.” People here are a little jumpy. I don’t know if anyone seriously thinks the fire alarms are false alarms to prepare for a real thing. (Though of course, what’s a little fire when you’ve already dealt in ice?) A more realistic scenario is that the “authorities” are doing with the fire alarms as they’ve done with the lights and the planes over the main camps. That is: They’re trying to deprive protestors of sleep, while, in this case, also driving away the tribe’s casino business.
These are conspiracy theories, maybe, from an overanxious moi, who just overheard hotel security saying they were going to shut off the fire sensors for the time being. But we’re all jumpy here. There were no altercations with the “authorities” today, but Sacred Stone Camp has reported that the National Guard just added a second water truck to the one the sheriffs used to douse protestors on Sunday. I’m guessing they’ll set up some sort of flank attack. James and I still don’t know if we’ll attend any direct action over the weekend, but I spent a sobering Thanksgiving, traveling past frozen fields of sunflowers, writing a directive about end-of-life care. That’s extreme; I know that. But although the mood is generally optimistic here, the water and grenade attacks, the neglect from EMS, the outright lies to the media* lead a number of us to wonder just how far we really are from another Wounded Knee. If the recent political season has given a mandate to the white supremacists who klaverned in DC, it has also energized the deputies who urinated all over the Standing Rock tribes’ confiscated artifacts. If a Muslim fears for her life in Johnson County, Iowa, a Lakota Sioux has the same to fear here in Morton County, North Dakota. And what each of us must do—what James and I have been agonizing over for two days and four states—is to decide how we best answer these direst of threats.
The Army Corps’ eviction notice delivers a number of blows. The first is that dissolving the camps will essentially dissolve the protest. My gut tells me that the campers will not go quietly. And I don’t think I’m catastrophizing when I say that such a situation could end in tragedy. The second blow rebounds on the government itself, where by ending the pipeline’s opposition, the government is rewarding the very entity that so flagrantly defies it. The Corps might strike a pious stance by saying that they’re seeking to end violence, but even the most mainstream media has come to acknowledge (belatedly) that this is not a fair fight. The more violent party–by far–is the group of police and mercenaries who use weapons that, among other things, have left a woman in danger of losing her arm. Not a single member of the “authorities” has sustained a serious injury. (Although one security guard may have received a bite from his own company’s dog.) It beggars belief that a woman facing twenty surgeries has become a catalyst for the Obama administration’s decision to side with the ones who maimed her.
Change has not come for the Native American. But it has come to our democracy. We’ve turned a dark corner at Standing Rock. We’ve allowed a handful of investors to degrade the media, the earth, and the peoples on the earth. Or, on second thought, maybe that isn’t a new development at all. Maybe, as with so many forms of bigotry, it’s lately become just that much bolder.
(*Contrary to what the police claim, that girl with the arm trauma did not have a run in with an “exploding propane tank.” It was a concussion grenade. The Guardian says she sustained no burns, and that the surgeons have gathered shrapnel as evidence.)
(Originally posted November 24, 2016)