As many of you witnessed, the State of North Dakota is getting more violent in its treatment of the Water Protectors on the Standing Rock Reservation. Peace officers are spraying streams of pepper spray in the faces of unarmed, peaceful demonstrators for doing nothing threatening at all other than being Native and vocal.
Still, despite the on-going treaty violations, racism and assaults on Native people that are going on in Standing Rock, President Obama wants to “… let it play out for several more weeks and then determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to traditions of the first Americans.” While the notion of letting on-going treaty violations and violence “play out” seems unconscionable, in fairness, it seems as if Obama is paying some attention to his Native advisors. He told Lawrence O’Donnell, “We’re monitoring this closely, and you know I think that as a general rule my view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline.”
That’s an understandable approach and acceptable to many. Reroute. In environmental organizing, that’s called a “NIMBY” approach—“Not In My Back Yard.” It’s like harm-reduction in drug counseling; where you know a harmful behavior is going to happen, but you want to reduce the toxicity of that harmful behavior, like a needle exchange program. Even though it is not ideal for the pipeline to be built at all, for many who face the immediate dangers of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it may seem like a reasonable compromise.
Yet, according to Indigenous Environmental Network community organizer Joye Braun (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), President Obama’s theoretical attempts to appease Native communities are off-target.
Joye should know. The Indigenous Environmental Network has been organizing around this pipeline since there was still snow on the ground last winter. Her and Wiyaka Eagleman were the first two campers at the campsite. She said the point is not simply to put this ticking timebomb somewhere else to explode. “There are no acceptable rerouting options, there is only one solution: stop this pipeline. Obama's administration is forcing a consultation process on infrastructure projects without recognizing the inherent rights to free, prior, informed consent. This is pure extortion on behalf of a company that has hired guns from the National Guard and different sheriffs departments. We are the eye witnesses to the atrocities happening right now today, but these same atrocities can happen to anyone at anytime.”
A NIMBY approach feels good in the short-term. Here, while it deals with the most immediate danger for the most vulnerable, it does not address the larger issue of predatory oil exploration that still, as a matter of empirical data, affects poorer communities disproportionately and destroys the earth. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation absolutely must get this pipeline out of its territory by whatever means necessary. A good leader must above all else protect the citizens and this reroute would do that. Therefore, it is 100% good for Standing Rock to utilize this to get its citizens out of harm’s way. Absolutely. But the truth is that Standing Rock Sioux Nation (nor ANY Native nation) should never be placed in this position to begin with; shame on the Army Corps of Engineering, the State of North Dakota and Energy Transfer Partners for forcing this decision, this “pure extortion” as Sister Joye brilliantly points out.
And maybe it’s possible, as Joye suggests, to not only stop the Army Corps and Energy Transfer Partners from extorting the Standing Rock Nation, but also to stop this pipeline altogether. The two goals are not at odds.
In fact, they go together.
My guess is that this battle is not going anyplace anytime soon. It seems that every measure that the bureaucrats think of are short-sighted and miss the point completely. What is certain is that all of this is Native land and we need to protect it. As Joye says, “There are no acceptable rerouting options, there is only one solution: stop this pipeline.”
Wesley Roach, Skan Photography
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories