As a student of history and a trained anthropologist, I feel it’s a given that each one of us is constantly in the act of making history. Everything we do is potential future research material. But only rarely do we have the opportunity to witness the large events that will shape everything around them for generations to come. I was not alive when the indigenous peoples of the Southeast were forcibly dispossessed and relocated, but I studied the Trail of Tears. I did not see the Jews, Intellectuals, and Gypsies herded like cattle through the gates of Death Camps, yet I spent months studying detailed records that spoke of such things. I did not witness people being bored into by streams from fire hoses and fending off the zealous attention of attack dogs because they wished to be permitted to vote and to be equal in the eyes of the law, but their voices echo loudly in this place–the Deep South.
Subsumed by Election Fervor
The hour grows late, pushing for 3 a.m., and I sit here, trying to find words for what I am watching via a live stream on Facebook. It’s the only actual coverage of what is happening with the #NoDAPL protest tonight. The main news outlets are all violently skewed in their reportage. There’s no riot. This is a peaceful protest against the wanton destruction of sacred sites, invasion of tribal lands, and a cooptation of water that many depend upon as a life giving resource. The Standing Rock Sioux have been fighting this pipeline in and out of court for nearly a year.
Dakota Access is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company LLC, an international operation that apparently holds the rights of imminent domain within any country, even upon tribal lands. Since that agreement was made without the consent of indigenous council in this case, I would venture to say that their claims are illegitimate, should this happen to be true. What is true is that this past week, the Army Corps of Engineers–the group responsible for overseeing projects of this scope and type within the United States–issued an order to DAPL to cease construction of a tunnel through treaty lands surrounding the Standing Rock Sioux territory until the COE could meet with the Tribal Council to discuss the matter more completely.
That this should have been done at the outset, after the citizens of Bismark rejected the pipeline due to concerns of water contamination and the project was rerouted to its current trajectory, should not need to be stated. That DAPL should not have been permitted to desecrate more than 80 sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux, which had been registered formally in a court of law prior to construction actions, should also go without saying. And yet, here we are.
In the Hour of the Wolf
Tonight, I watched in horror as peaceful protestors attempting to move the charred hulks of vehicles from the roadway were subjected to inhuman treatment at the hands of the local police, fire department, and other militarized law enforcement. Major news outlets, when they reported at all, painted a picture of violent protestors setting fires. In fact, the fires were started by employees of DAPL, who shot projectiles into the crowd. Protestors made fires in the background for warmth, since the temperatures have dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit in North Dakota.
Approximately 400 unarmed and non-violent Water Protectors were pinned on a bridge when the opposing forces began firing tear gas into the tightly packed crowd. They had only two options–trample their fellows in an attempt to escape the choking smoke or breathe it. Then, they began to indiscriminately fire dummy bullets, beanbag rounds, and pepper spray at the protestors. While these are considered “non-lethal,” they caused grave harm to several Water Protectors–from massive contusions and split scalps to Elders who suffered heart attacks.
But that wasn’t the worst of the militarized response. Shortly after I began watching around 7 p.m., the police began targeting protestors with water cannons, drenching them with icy water laced with mace as the temperature continued to dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Lather, rinse, repeat–dummy rounds, sonic devices emitting ear splitting noise, concussion grenades, water cannons, and pepper spray. And what the media reported was that the authorities were using the water cannons to put out fires started by the protestors. A categorically false statement. The only fires they aimed at were those built by the Water Protectors for the purpose of warmth.
Rolling Towards Dawn on the Assumption Wagon
Many people I know will take the view point of the main news networks. Likely, they will form opinions based on this skewed reportage that align with their political views, their culturally reinforced concepts of respect for authority without substantiation, and perceptions of non-affiliated media that have been nurtured by corporate conglomerates. Yes, there’s been trouble with fake news. Live streaming videos of events from tonight don’t qualify as spurious, merely uncomfortable for many.
But here’s the largest problem. Currently, I don’t have any solid information on whether DAPL LLC has continued drilling in defiance of the ACOE cessation order, although several sources did mention it to be a possibility. What is true is that DAPL has moved horizontal drills and essential machinery to the drill pads, in preparation for immediate resumption of drilling. This should not happen. Consultation has not been completed to the satisfaction of the ACOE.
What also must not be ignored is that this action of militarized police and fire departments, as well as DAPL security forces is in any way warranted. It is not a proportional response, and we must not look away from it. This struggle is a part of a larger pattern of disregard for vulnerable populations, and also of a continuing narrative of conflict and dispossession of indigenous peoples by colonial powers. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to feel good about it. But you also cannot allow it and maintain the illusion of yourself as a decent human being.
Because I encourage independent verification, below, I’m including a list of links/embedded videos to live-recorded feeds that you can watch at your leisure.
This guy provided almost constant coverage:
https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fkevin.happychappy%2Fvideos%2F1806777989594705%2F&show_text=0&width=400 (To see what I meant about the water cannon and the fire started by DAPL employees, please consult 1 hr, 11 min on this feed.)
Here are some points of view from within the Water Defender group itself:
This makes me feel rather helpless. However, there are things you can do. Even a simple call to the White House comments line, which is actually rather painless and easy to do, can help–(202) 456-1111, Between the Hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST. Talk about any problems you have with the continued pattern of behavior on the part of the authorities–use of water cannons on protestors in below-freezing temperatures, indiscriminate use of non-lethal rounds fired at random into a tightly packed crowd with no avenue of escape, use of tear gas on the same group in the same circumstances. Also, the legitimacy of DAPL’s imminent domain on tribal treaty lands, their flagrant disregard for the order of cessation, and their despicable destruction and desecration of indigenous sites of sacred importance.
You may also contact the ACLU, the Army Corps of Engineers, and your government representatives, in order to voice your concerns about this event and the contextual issues in play.
Thank you for your time.