Earth News: More than News of the World

End of the Year Special edition

December 29, 2016

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“Resistance” sign at the site of the drill pad back in May. Photo by Desiree Kane.

Ever optimistic, I want to end a tough year for the planet on a positive note, and it doesn’t get more inspiring than the story out of Standing Rock.

Maybe you’d like to read and meditate on, share and discuss one of these amazing stories every day for twelve days as 2016 winds down and 2017 arrives.

Then let’s start a new year of 365 days of building a more powerful climate justice movement.

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Most of us would probably agree that the biggest step the U.S. climate justice movement took in 2016 is the #NODAPL movement at Standing Rock, Sioux Territory, in the U.S. state of North Dakota – a state not normally seen as a hotbed of activism or as the seedbed of something new. But (pleasant) surprises and astonishing accomplishments are precisely what we need to generate more of.

In the middle (or is it still the beginning after all these months? – it’s certainly not the end) of this precious gift, longtime indigenous activist Winona LaDuke evoked an Earth Warrior from the past in this moving essay on the present, excerpted here.

Her full essay can be found here at EcoWatch.


The Dakota Access Pipeline: What Would Sitting Bull Do?

It’s 2016 and the weight of American corporate interests has come to the Missouri River, the Mother River. This time, instead of the Seventh Cavalry or the Indian police dispatched to assassinate Sitting Bull, it is Enbridge and Dakota Access Pipeline.

In mid-August, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II was arrested by state police, along with 27 others, for opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the meantime, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple called for more police support.

Every major pipeline project in North America must cross indigenous lands, Indian Country. That is a problem.

The road west of Fargo is rarely taken. In fact, most Americans just fly over North Dakota, never seeing it.

Let me take you there….

In the time before Sitting Bull, the Missouri River was the epicenter of northern agriculture, the river bed so fertile. The territory was known as the fertile crescent of North America. That was then, before the treaties that reduced the Lakota land base. But the Missouri remained in the treaty – the last treaty of 1868 used the Missouri as a boundary.

Then came the theft of land by the U.S. government and the taking of the Black Hills in 1877, in part as retaliation against Sitting Bull’s victory at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. In a time prior to Black Lives Matter or Native Lives Matter, great leaders like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were assassinated at the hands of police.

One truth: The Lakota people have survived much.

Forced into the reservation life, the Lakota attempted to stabilize their society, until the dams came. The 1944 Pick Sloan project flooded out the Missouri River tribes, taking the best bottom lands from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, the Lakota and Dakota. More than 200,000 acres on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations in South Dakota were flooded by the Oahe Dam itself, forcing not only relocation, but a loss of the Lakota world. The Garrison, Oahe and Fort Randall dams created a reservoir that eliminated 90 percent of timber and 75 percent of wildlife on the reservations.

That is how a people are made poor.

Today, well over two thirds of the population of Standing Rock is below the poverty level – and the land and Mother River are what remains, a constant, for the people. That is what is threatened today.

Enbridge and partners are preparing to drill through the riverbed. The pipeline has been permitted in sections from the west and from the east. The northern portion was moved away from the water supply of Bismarck, into the watershed of Standing Rock. That was unfortunate for the Lakota….

The pipeline would span 200 water crossings and in North Dakota alone would pass through 33 historical and archeological sites. Enbridge just bought the Dakota Access pipeline, noting that the proposed Sandpiper route – Minnesota’s 640,000 barrel per day Bakken line – is now three years behind schedule.

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The route of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The health of the Missouri River has been taken for granted.

Dammed in the Pick Sloan Dam projects, each project increases contamination and reduces her health. Today, the Missouri is the seventh most polluted river in the country. Agricultural run-off and now fracking have contaminated the river. My sister fished a gar out of the river, a giant prehistoric fish, only to find it covered with tumors….

While North Dakota seeks to punish the Lakota, Chairman Archambault expresses concerns for everyone:

From the New York Times: “I am here to advise anyone that will listen that the Dakota Access Pipeline project is harmful. It will not be just harmful to my people but its intent and construction will harm the water in the Missouri River, which is one of the cleanest and safest river tributaries left in the United States. To poison the water is to poison the substance of life. Everything that moves must have water. How can we talk about and knowingly poison water?”

In the meantime, North Dakota Gov. Dalrymple announced a state of emergency, making additional state resources available “to manage public safety risks associated with the ongoing protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.” He may have exceeded his scope of authority and violated civil and human rights to water.

Chairman Archambault’s interpretation: “Perhaps only in North Dakota, where oil tycoons wine and dine elected officials and where the governor, Jack Dalrymple, serves as an adviser to the Trump campaign, would state and county governments act as the armed enforcement for corporate interests.”

There are a lot of people at Standing Rock today who remember their history and the long standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973. In fact, some of those in Standing Rock today were there in 1973 at Wounded Knee, a similar battle for dignity and the future of a nation.

I am not sure how badly North Dakota wants this pipeline. If there is to be a battle over the pipeline, it will be here. For a people with nothing else but a land and a river, I would not bet against them.

The great Lakota leader Mathew King once said, “The only thing sadder than an Indian who is not free, is an Indian who does not remember what it is to be free.”

The Standing Rock protest camp represents that struggle for freedom and the future of a people. All of us. If I ask the question “What would Sitting Bull do?” – the answer is pretty clear. He would remind me what he said 150 years ago: “Let us put our minds together to see what kind of future we can make for our children.”

The time for that is now.

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Full size painted Oil Drum by Wallace Piatt
Photo by John Foran