“As history was being told, history was unfolding. And it has not stopped.”
These words ring powerful and prophetic in the introduction to a new anthology of more than 30 contributors linked to the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, officially released Aug. 27.
The major headlines have faded about the yearlong moment in history during which hundreds arrived on treaty land to support the Oceti Sakowin – the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota people. But the story continues in how a crisscross of fuel-carrying pipelines are affecting landscapes and waterways and of how Indigenous people continue to resist threats to their environment, their sovereignty and their way of life, in the new book, Standing with Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement.
“Standing Rock was a moment within a larger movement,” said Nick Estes, one of the book’s editors. “This is really what this book captures, the diversity of voices. It’s historic connections not just among indigenous people but with non-Indigenous people as well.”
Estes and Jaskiran Dhillon, both professors, were both present at the water-protector camps that started in April 2016. They collaborated on a podcast and interview series at Standing Rock and now on this anthology.
Estes, of the Kul Wicasa Oyate or Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, is an assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico and a co-founder of the Red Nation dedicated to Indigenous liberation. Dhillon, whose parents emigrated from northern India to Canada, grew up on the Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatchewan. An anti-colonial scholar, she is an associate professor of global studies and anthropology at the New School in New York City and is a member of the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective.
These scholars chose the book’s long and short essays, interviews, poems, art and photographs with an eye toward the past, the present and the future.
“The Oceti Sakowin has played a specific role within the Indigenous resistance … more famously because of the war on the Great Plains and for the Black Hills in the 1850s, ’60s and ’70s, and with the defeat of Custer and then, of course, the Ghost Dance, and then the leading roles that Lakota activists played in the Red Power movement,” Estes noted. “We see that as an extension of our history, as Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. I think people don’t see the continuity between what happened in the 19th century and what happens in the 21st century. This is really what this book captures, the diversity of voices … the role of Standing Rock in the larger Indigenous movement over time.”
“Curating something like this is never an easy process,” Dhillon acknowledged. “And, of course, it’s not a definitive book; it’s not the book on Standing Rock. What we hoped that we’d be able to create was a compendium that offered people access to a range of perspectives and insights about the movement itself, both in historical context, but also within the context of colonialism, environmental politics, education and pedagogy, leadership and movement building, as well as solidarity across different kinds of social movements.”
As our songs and prayers echo across the prairie, we need the public to see that in standing up for our rights, we do so on behalf of the millions of Americans who will be affected by this pipeline. — David Archambault II, from the interior
While perhaps not the “definitive” book on the movement and its place in history, the book certainly is comprehensive in unfurling the broad scope of the battle against this “Black Snake” of a pipeline through a diversity of expression.
It intertwines interviews with key defenders — from Standing Rock elder and history keeper LaDonna Bravebull Allard to teenager Zaysha Grinnell, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nations and one of the young leaders in the NoDAPL movement — among academic essays and personal testimonies by on-the-ground leaders such as David Archambault II, the then-Standing Rock tribal chairman and one of the more than 800 arrested before law officials physically forced the closing of the camps by February 2017.
Spliced among the longer prose pieces are poetry, photography and artworks that express passion, compassion and context.
“We wanted people to be able to say what they wanted to say and still have the integrity and credibility that an academic text would lend, but not close down their ability to really share their stories and their insights in the ways they felt would be the most meaningful for them,” Dhillon said.
Among the multiple goals, the two editors brought to their collaboration was the creation of a tool for classrooms today and a foundation for historical studies of the future. This book will make it harder to ignore the Native voices when histories of this time are gathered, they say.
“We had to privilege those voices, first and foremost because I felt like, toward the end of Standing Rock, the Lakota and Dakota histories of that particular place were very much marginalized,” Estes said.
“We hope in the future, when people are looking back on this moment that they do seek out those voices from Lakota and Dakota people themselves of their own history — and I’m not just talking about Standing Rock; I’m talking about the larger history of the Lakota and Dakota people. We have our own historians, we have our own poets, we have our own artists and our own knowledge keepers. We are a nation, right, and I think this represents the best of our nation. We have people writing from that perspective.
“So often our Lakota, Dakota and even Indigenous historians and experts, in general, are just overlooked in mainstream media and scholarly accounts,” Estes added. “There’s no vetting about who writes our stories. For example, you can write a history on Russia, but the expectation is that you probably should know Russian and should have visited the place. I know a lot of historians have written histories about us, specifically because we seem to be the fascination of Western history, but have never visited and had never talked to actual experts. So this is a larger project. It’s not to say non-Indigenous people can’t write our history, it’s how they write our history that’s important.”
Priority was given to Lakota and Dakota writers, but throughout the book other voices explore the spectrum of global resistance — from discussions of Black Lives Matter to interviews with activists about their struggles in occupied Palestine, to a timely piece by David Uahikeaikalei’ohu Maile about the Native Hawaiian battle to stop a 30-meter telescope from being placed on the sacred Mauna a Wākea.
“It is our kuleana (set of rights and responsibilities) to care for and protect our island world,” Maile writes. “Because of our particular way of knowing, we must defend Mauna a Wākea at any cost.”
That particular way of knowing motivates Indigenous people to defend their homelands and homewaters and the humans and non-humans living there, but that wisdom also inspires others, as it did at Standing Rock, especially after the private militia hired by the pipeline owner, Energy Transfer Partners, attacked people at the Standing Rock camps with dogs in September 2016. Hundreds arrived to support the camps.
“In August, the camps were still primarily Native, with fewer allies present,” recalled Dhillon. “It was different when I went there in October; there were many more people and organizers from other social movements who had joined the fight.”
Although the camps have been cleared and the Dakota Access Pipeline now slithers under the Missouri River, Dhillon said the lesson taken from that moment is critical.
“The historical moment in which Standing Rock happened is deeply relevant now. This book doesn’t soften the blow about what’s at stake as the world teeters on the precipice of climate change … and the ongoing war on the planet where there are millions of people who are dispossessed and live in conditions of severe deprivation. We’re in a historical moment where these issues are very real and it matters, it matters now more than ever, the kinds of decisions we make, the policies we support, the laws we make or undo.”
“I think it’s a beginning. I don’t see Standing Rock as a failure.”
The editors hope that the lessons of Standing Rock – and of the resistance movements past and future – is carried in this 400-page volume.
“The power of this particular collection,” Estes said of this book, “is not that it’s going to be the final word on Standing Rock or any of these movements, but that it’s a continuation.”
Standing with Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement
Nick Estes and Jaskiran Dhillon, editors
University of Minnesota Press
Nick Estes and Jaskarin Dhillon will appear at these book signings:
Sept. 8 at Red Nation’s Native Liberation Conference 2019, Gallup, N.M.
Sept. 18 at The People’s Forum in New York City (official launch)
Konnie LeMay, currently editor of Lake Superior Magazine in Duluth, Minnesota, has been contributing to Indian Country Today since 1991.