It has been said the only thing we learn from history…is that we never learn from history. This old adage is applicable to what is taking place at Standing Rock right now on a number of different levels. It is evident in terms of how Native American civil and human rights are once again being blatantly violated by local, state, and federal government agencies on behalf of big oil and banking interests who have literally hijacked our government. It is also evident in how adept the white man is in employing the time worn divide and conquer tactics used to defeat Native resistance movements against political oppression. Case in point is examining the divisions which now exist at Standing Rock between the tribal government, and Standing Rock Native resistance leaders, such as Chase Iron Eyes.
I take strong issue with Ray Cook’s op-ed of February 3, 2017, Standing Down at Standing Rock- Mother Earth Needs No Protection, regarding the current dismantling of the NoDAPL resistance camps at Standing Rock. Let me begin by stating I respect Mr. Cook as an important voice in Indian country, his many years of political activism, his credentials sufficiently displayed for everyone to appreciate. A lot of us have been around as well, going back to the 1970s, 1980s, etc. So many of the prominent, nationally known Indian leaders and resistance warriors I was acquainted with from that time period are now gone, most having crossed over into the Spirit world. Spiritual and political leaders like Phillip Deere, Thomas Banyacya, Bill Wahpapah, Russell Means, John Trudell—and many more who sacrificed so much and paved the way for a new generation of emerging young Indian leaders.
Troubling is Mr. Cook’s depiction of Standing Rock NoDAPL resistance leader Chase Iron Eyes, as being nothing more than a political opportunist whose motives should be questioned. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have never met Chase Iron Eyes, nor have I ever had any communications with him. However from viewing online news video interviews with Chase Iron Eyes, there should be no question his motives are honorable and sincere. Questioning his character and motives with judgmental innuendo only plays into the hands of the real enemy at hand.
Mr. Cook states: “We have lost something here at Standing Rock in the last few weeks. It has been replaced with recalcitrance, ignorance and political opportunity…” Really? Just because Chase Iron Eyes strongly disagrees with the position his tribal government has taken in evicting the Water Protectors? The same tribal government that put out the call to the world last fall pleading for help and support? The same tribal government that gladly received a few million dollars in donations from people all over the world to stop the DAPL pipeline? The implication is that Native people, such as Chase Iron Eyes, do not have the right to question their own tribal government, and should act like sheep, instead of leaders.
Evicting the Water Protectors who while peacefully demonstrating, have been violently assaulted by militarized police, shot at with rubber bullets, sprayed repeatedly with pepper spray, viciously attacked by guard dogs, beaten over the head with batons, thrown into dog kennel cages. Let us not forget the images of Water Protectors, including elders and children, being sprayed by Morton County Sheriff’s Department with water cannons in below freezing temperatures. Hundreds of people have been arrested and are now facing serious trumped up charges from inciting riots to assaulting police—including Chase Iron Eyes.
Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archembault II has declared the Water Protectors have “served their purpose” and should now go home, the battle has now shifted to the courts to decide the fate of DAPL pipeline. Mr. Archembault may be in for a rude awakening investing all his faith in the U.S. judicial system, as the American courts have historically served to negate and repress the rights of Native peoples. As Chase Iron Eyes has correctly pointed out, the issues here are much more than about a pipeline: this is about colonialism, broken treaties, tribal sovereignty, environmental racism, corporate greed, government corruption, police state brutality, and the list goes on. The significance of what happened at Standing Rock cannot be overstated, as literally hundreds of Native tribes and communities united in solidarity in support of the Standing Rock Sioux. Not to mention the millions of non-Native peoples all over the world who were inspired by what happens when THE PEOPLE stand up to the government and greedy corporations.
The next time the Standing Rock tribal government issues a nationwide call for help and support, people are going to think twice about answering that call. There is no question Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s biggest economic enterprise, the casino, has been impacted by the blockade imposed by Morton County. But there are some things more important than the white man’s money, such as asserting tribal sovereignty and addressing the fact the U.S. government has a long record of broken treaties, in violation of all standards of international law. Colonialism, terrorism, political oppression, stealing of ancestral lands, abject poverty, etc. are common denominators experienced by every single Native nation in the United States.
It serves no useful purpose whatsoever to undermine the efforts of someone like Chase Iron Eyes or the remaining Water Protectors, by attempting to delegitimize them as some kind of ‘rogue faction’. There is a time honored tradition among Indian people that anytime one of their own steps up to the plate and attempts to lead the people, they make themselves an immediate target—first and foremost by their own people. As the saying goes, a prophet is never welcome in his own community. Chase Iron Eyes is not a prophet, but he is a bona fide Native leader whose integrity and motives cannot be questioned. Again, this only plays into the hands of the wacichu (the white man), perpetuating the divide and conquer tactics that have been used against Indigenous Peoples for over 500 years by Western Europeans.
Haven’t we as Indian people learned anything from this? It is a tragic but historical fact both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were murdered by their own people, as agents of the U.S. government. The Oceti Sakowin camp has to be relocated because of imminent flooding come spring. We get that. However, it was a major strategic mistake for the Standing Rock tribal government to evict all the Water Protectors and not continue to support the resistance camps. Why, only Tribal Chairman Archembault can answer that question. The Water Protectors are now being shown the door, and in a not so subtle way, being told they are part of the problem, not the solution. According to Mr. Cook, protecting and ‘saving the earth’ is a joke. It is not a joke, but the solemn responsibility of all human beings. Our ancestors, elders and medicine people foretold this time would come, and now it is here and we must deal with it. By doing exactly what the Water Protectors have been doing: offering prayers and peacefully resisting through non-violence.
As of this writing, the Army Corps of Engineers has just issued the permit for DAPL to proceed with the drilling. Restraining order or not, DAPL has now been given the green light under the authority of the Trump administration and will proceed with drilling under the lake. By the time this winds its way through the court system, the pipeline will be fully operational as planned.
For all of the young people, especially our young Native people who believed in standing up for what was right; for all the Water Protectors who stood on the front line knowing they might be seriously injured or even killed by the corporate police state, your sacrifices were not for nothing: the entire world was inspired and will continue the battle no matter what. There is no choice, because as always, this is a question of survival. This is not the time to ‘stand down’, but now more than ever, we need to stand up and fight for Native rights and Mother Earth. This is exactly what Chase Iron Eyes is doing in the face of a daunting enemy that has no respect for the sacredness of life. Our ancestors would expect no less.
Laughing Coyote is a writer and member of the Mono, Choinumni, and Chuckchansi tribes indigenous to the central Sierra Nevada mountains of California.