In September of last year, a 50-foot monument bearing the likeness of an unnamed Lakota woman replete with a blowing-in-the-wind star quilt, was installed along the banks of the Missouri River in Chamberlain, South Dakota. Her creator, Dale Lamphere, a non-Native artist, titled the giantess sculpture “Dignity.”
On his website Lamphere states, “’Dignity’ represents the courage, perseverance, and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota. She is very solid. Grounded into the earth, literally and spiritually.” Indeed, she is—weighing in at 12 tons and made entirely of stainless steel. The million-dollar sculpture was financed by Rapid City businessman, Norm McKie and his wife Eunabel, on behalf of their family and was given as a gift to all the people of South Dakota.
At the time of the launch if you followed the Missouri river to the north, you would have witnessed another launch taking place. The launching of concussion grenades and dog attacks, water cannons and rubber bullets. The launching of incalculable greed and disregard for life. The NoDAPL demonstration and stand-off was an event on a scale which the world has never seen, and it sparked universal awareness and attention towards the most critically urgent issues of our time. Protecting the Water. Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.
The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is a 1,172 mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that will connect the rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline will enable domestically produced light sweet crude oil to reach major refining markets.
The pipeline cuts straight through ancestral lands sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and threatens their main water supply, the Missouri River, Mni Sose.
Ladonna Bravebull Allard, Tribal Preservation Officer for the Standing Rock Sioux, owns the northernmost land of the Standing Rock Reservation. The northern border is the Cannon Ball River. The eastern border is the Missouri River. From her land, you can see the pipeline corridor.
The land she grew up on tells the history of this river back 2,000 years.
When I think of the stainless-steel sculpture constructed and financed by wealthy white men with good intentions, I wonder how these men feel about the Dakota Access Pipeline, and how they feel about the history and governance of their state in regards to Native Americans. I hope their sculptures are in the spirit of improving lives, and not in the interest of improving their state’s tourism. These white men seem a lot more invested building monstrosities—“Dignity” sculpture, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, the Dakota Access Pipeline—than with investing in actual, present day Natives.
When I think of the “Dignity” sculpture and the militarization and stand-offs of the small, otherwise peaceful communities on Standing Rock—where my own mother and grandparents were born—and specifically, when I think of monsters—the Black Snake Prophecy, I think of the 1958 creature feature Attack of the 50ft Woman. In the movie, a rich socialite encounters an alien life form and is transformed into a giantess, a 50ft she-beast. The King-Kong sized woman goes on a rampage after discovering her husband in a bar with a “no-good floozy.” Eight industrial sized hooks, four lengths of chain, forty gallons of plasma, an elephant syringe and electrical fire later, she is finally subdued. The authorities responsible for successfully capturing and bringing her down holler things like, I can’t shoot a lady! Waddaya want me to do, salt her tail?
In my reveries, the “Dignity” sculpture breaks from her foundation, pulls her blue steel star quilt around her shoulders, and follows the Missouri River north to Cannonball, up to the Oceti Sakowin—Seven Council Fires—straight into the heart of things, and gets to work killing the black snake. In my reveries, the authorities do not succeed in bringing her down (eight industrial sized hooks, four lengths of chain, forty gallons of plasma, an elephant syringe and electrical fire); in my daydreams she is not defeated, but is victorious and freeze-framed for eternity (despite concussion grenades and dog attacks, water cannons and rubber bullets).
The land she grew up on tells the history of this river back 2,000 years. What stories of this river will be told in 2,000 more?
Tiffany Midge is an assistant poetry editor at The Rumpus, and an award-winning author of The Woman Who Married a Bear. Her work is featured in McSweeney's, The Rumpus, Okey-Pankey, The Butter, Waxwing, and Moss. She is Hunkpapa Lakota. Follow her on Twitter @TiffanyMidge