Standing Rock: Reflection & Direction
I have helped my husband pack his rucksack for war before. Nothing about it was easy. But that previous war was nothing like the one we were preparing for this time. He wasn't going to fight terrorists in Afghanistan or insurgents in Iraq. This time, his battalion included his uncle and my father, Vietnam vets who weren't going to fight the Viet Cong either. It was December 2016, and they were going to serve as human shields supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Cannonball, South Dakota as part of the first ever, all-volunteer Veteran's Deployment to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
"We knew 'regulation' of the oil industry didn't safeguard habitats, communities, or the water sources they depended on."
At the ceremony for their send off, we honored our small group of 10 who volunteered for the Veteran's Deployment. Several community members and my cousin had already been there and back, supporting the Sioux's stand against DAPL. We knew more fossil fuel extraction would damage our global environment and further accelerate climate tipping points. We knew "regulation" of the oil industry didn't safeguard habitats, communities, or the water sources they depended on. We knew sacred and cultural sites of the Sioux Tribe were being desecrated and destroyed for corporate greed.
"I thought you would be going!" someone called to me, as the send-off ceremony concluded. But I couldn't go because I had to stay home and defend our water. My literal job title was Water Regulatory Specialist, and I had permits to review, and soil and site evaluations to write. Plus, I had to care for our three children, all under age 11 at the time.
What if I went and something happened to both me and my husband? It was painful to consider, though I so badly wanted to go to show my solidarity and support. Besides, I knew nothing about combat or tactical warfare, and I'd only be in the way of our real warriors. It was logical for me to stay, but I still burned with fear and agony as the caravan drove out of sight. This war was different.
"When will this madness to destroy Mother Earth stop? My great-great grandmother survived the US Calvary but lived as a child prisoner of war, and grew up a refugee from her homeland."
Something else burned in my soul those days and weeks while our veterans were gone. Something that had been bubbling ever since I learned of the struggle at Standing Rock. And on November 20, 2016 -- the day militarized police and paramilitary contractors used water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on the water protectors -- it rose to the surface. I watched from the comfort of my kitchen as an eyewitness live-streamed the feed to Facebook. It was like I traveled back in time and witnessed -- in slow-motion horror -- my namesake, my great-great grandmother fleeing for her life from the United States Cavalry in 1877.
Grist: These veterans explain why they went to Standing Rock, December 22, 2016.
At that time, my namesake was a small child of the Wal'wama Nimiipuu (Wallowa Nez Perce), forcibly removed from her homeland by the US military to ensure unrestricted Euro-American access to Wal'wama grazing lands and mineral resources in present-day northeastern Oregon. Since then, the US Government has continued to weave their story of "hostile Indians'' and half-truths, while human rights and accurate reporting have been minimized or neglected completely. History repeating.
"Today, all around the world, Indigenous-led protests to protect their territories and heritage from fossil fuel and climate-related developments continue. How do we best levy our actions to support them?"
Our veterans returned home from Standing Rock unscathed, and they discussed their experiences during a return celebration ceremony with our community. However, it has been five full years since protestors left Standing Rock. As hindsight gives clearer perspective on the events of 2016, I must know: When will this madness to destroy Mother Earth stop? My great-great grandmother survived the US Calvary but lived as a child prisoner of war, and grew up a refugee from her homeland. So many others at that time did not survive the exile. Today, those fighting for their homelands are branded "eco-terrorists," charged with felonies, or worse -- killed.
CBC News: Amazon Indigenous warrior killed by illegal loggers, November 4, 2019.
Today, all around the world, Indigenous-led protests to protect their territories and heritage from fossil fuel and climate-related developments continue. How do we best levy our actions to support them? How can anyone so far removed from Indigenous struggles make an impact? Well, fortunately, anyone who votes, pays taxes, or consumes fossil fuels not only has the power, but the right to enact change.
First, write to your elected officials and ask that they bring a resolution forward at their governance level supporting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into their governmental decision-making processes. UNDRIP was supported by the US in 2011, but it is not yet legally binding. Expressing your advocacy of the declaration to your local city council, county board of commissioners, state representatives, and even your governor is the first step to supporting Indigenous human rights and the rights of nature instead of corporate rights.
"We are in this together. Everyone is attached to this struggle, and it didn't start or end with Standing Rock."
Second, write to your elected officials and ask that all development projects from this day forth occur with the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples. It's not perfect, but it will get governments on the path to support the rights of Indigenous peoples to their food and water security, and ensure that the survival of Indigenous cultural heritage is not sacrificed.
Next, support a just energy transition and keeping fossil fuels in the ground. We cannot end at fossil fuel divestment and call it a day; decolonizing policy and transitioning economies is what will save future generations.
Last, but certainly not least, you must keep supporting land back movements and demand that criminal charges against land and water defenders be dropped. Those who act to safeguard the future of functioning ecosystems and our planet as a whole are not criminals or terrorists.
We are in this together. Everyone is attached to this struggle, and it didn't start or end with Standing Rock. The fate of Indigenous peoples and our homelands is ultimately the fate of all humanity.