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The North Dakota Frontlines: Between A Standing Rock And A Hard Place
Wrong Kind of Green
October 4, 2016
by Forrest Palmer with Cory Morningstar
On the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, an indigenous uprising which captured national attention in August 2016 that those in power hope will be naturally extinguished due to time and conventional society’s short attention span on matters such as this (this characteristic best represented by the Occupy movement of a few years ago). The outward reason for the present uproar is the passage of North Dakota portion of the Bakken pipeline through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation that will intersect the area’s sacred burial grounds, and, critically, could pollute the freshwater source of the region’s inhabitants. As the American populace is wholly averse to addressing this to any great degree, the cause of the indigenous being cloistered in these remote, isolated and destitute lands is our desire to not recognize the last remaining reminders of the price that was paid in order to establish this so-called ‘land of the free and home of the brave’. In particular, this movement has brought to light the fact that the mainstream public is totally ignorant about this particular reservation and the reservation system in general when it comes to the atrocious living conditions of the descendants of those domestically colonized in this country.
To understand the base of the anger residing in the participants of the uprising, it is necessary to take a closer look at the lifestyle of the people on the Standing Rock Reservation
- A high school graduation rate of 14%
- An unemployment rate of 86%
- A poverty rate of over 40% for families and individuals
- Entrenched alcohol and drug use
- Lack of basic resources
These are all the endemic signs of a people who are wholly broken due to centuries of systemic abuses by their conquerors. Therefore, the question isn’t why are the Standing Rock Sioux citizens involved in this rebellion. The question is why is anyone shocked when being pushed past this limit has led to this inevitable outcome. But, just like the proverbial straw that has broken the camel’s back, this current injustice is the catalyst for pushing the rightly aggrieved people past their breaking point as a community.
As detailed above, what is being unreported and overlooked in this uprising (which is one of the first steps to any revolution, with it yet to be determined if this will be the end result in this occasion) is the fact that life on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation is insufferably toxic and this current maneuver by the state at the behest of private industry will make it worse in the present and increasingly so in the future. But in order to truly ascertain the level of disinterest shown by the United States in its dealings with the government’s internally colonized descendants that currently reside in the grey area between ethnic cleansing and outright genocide, any unbiased individual need look no further than the behavior of United States in its dealings with defeated foes domestically and the ones internationally. As a specific case, the response by the United States in its treaties with the defeated foes of the Third Axis externally after World War II is the direct opposite of that implemented with the internal First Nations tribes. The treaties entered into by the United States with the defeated Axis powers and the resulting policies were totally in line with the promise to rebuild infrastructure that would be installed in the charred remains of Europe due to the war’s decimating effects, even those of its former enemies during the war. As the current successful state of the defeated combatants is a testament to the United States keeping its promise subsequent to its victory, it must be asked why is it that Nazi Germany, Imperialist Japan and Fascist Italy were given preferable treaty terms and the promises held fast to by the United States, which is in stark contrast to the historical treatment of a full-out genocide executed upon the remaining indigenous in this country, who are purported sovereign citizens of the United States.
The reason being is that the Marshall Plan, the United States economic framework of rebuilding Western Europe and Southeast Asia, and its attending policies were beneficial to the economic strength and growth of power of the United States, which allowed it to become the present and primary global entity. Hence, the United States had an economic reason to rebuild the broken shards of these areas that comprised the war theaters. Oppositely, there never has been and never will be an economic incentive for the United States to invest and fortify the reservations or support the people who inhabit them since their prosperity will never be a benefit to capitalism, but a drain on its precarious and ever dwindling resources.
Photo: Terray Sylvester
To further illustrate the removal of the indigenous from the consciousness of almost all the people internal to the country who aren’t a part of the First Nation communities, the invisibility of the native in comparison to every other non-anglo furthers their collective removal from any discussion in terms of white supremacy and its deleterious effects on internal non-European populations. The closest in proximity to the tangible aspects of impoverishment and oppression of the indigenous in the U.S. would be the black and brown communities, identified as the descendants of the formally enslaved Africans and Latins from south of the U.S. border, respectively. Yet, in this particular instance, the black and brown U.S. citizens reside in a much better position due to the necessity of their particular existences in comparison to the decimated First Nation populations, who are congregated in the farthest outposts of the United States. The fact that black and brown people exist in areas close to the hubs of capitalism of major cities in the United States (as they always have been) and still are a necessary form of labor in an expression of white supremacy by historically doing jobs that anglos were and are unwilling to do means that any uprising these communities participated in would be disruptive to the economic system of capitalism that is the foundation of national prosperity. As the First Nations people reside in land that is far removed from the primary places and industries of which commerce is reliant upon, any comparable disruption in their present areas will have no effect upon the everyday ability of capitalism to function.
Therefore, unlike every other non-anglo ethnicity in the country that can have some type of effect on the system, the indigenous population can remain isolated and unheard with no means of popular acknowledgement in terms of its ever present painful condition. Tragically, the only reason that this agony is heard to any degree presently and any problems addressed to any facile measure is to allow the dominant culture to not acknowledge that it has effectively decimated the entirety of the indigenous population while at the same time not deal with the guilt (if there would be any) of delivering the final death blow of genocide that has always been the unspoken threat directed at the relative handful of people still residing in the United States. Ultimately, if it wasn’t for this piece of pipeline that will only stretch a few miles into the region of the Standing Rock Reservation, there would be no reason whatsoever to even acknowledge their present protest, let alone do anything about it.
So, the presence of this seemingly spontaneous protest has dual layers to it. On the surface, it is about this singular pipeline and the possible problems that may arise due to its placement in close proximity to their living area. However, in the same vein as non-violent direct action (NVDA) is based on the civil rights movement in the United States and its perceived success here in this country (although all evidence points to the contrary), many of the singular atrocities that galvanized the black community to utilize this particular means of protest, such as the murder of Emmitt Till and the arrest of Rosa Parks for not sitting in the back of the bus, were mere sparks that set off the powder keg that was already present in society due to the centuries long oppression that preceded them.
Similarly, the pipeline is just the catalyst for addressing inequities that have laid dormant for far too long. This is the layer beneath the surface where the righteous anger residing on the reservation has been fomenting since the natives were forced into this open air prison by the barrel of a gun decades ago. Whether it was this pipeline or some other form of intrusion on the land that the state said was theirs after surrendering as an entire ethnic group in order to not be fully exterminated, the need for capitalism to continuously gobble up everything in its path inevitably led to this current situation, where the natives are a harbinger for all of mankind as the extremities of needed energy accumulation will close on all of us more and more with each passing day whether we choose to accept it or not. And as current flow always follows the path of least resistance, the state has always looked first to the reservation system and its inhabitants to appropriate anything it may need to survive since the continued existence of the indigenous is seen as an inconvenience rather than a necessity by most non-indigenous citizens in this country.
As NVDA is a remnant of the aforementioned much ballyhooed civil rights movement, the response by the state has advanced and evolved while the tactics employed by the ethnic victims in regards to white supremacy has stagnated and remained the same. This is no more apparent than in the current actions by private interests regarding the indigenous uprising. During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the state employed attack dogs on protestors as a response to their marches. In the present iteration of the response, it isn’t the state that has employed these abusive tactics, it is the corporation that now has its paid minions to deliver counterattacks to the movement. ICYMI, a private security company, was employed by the manufacturers of the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, to confront the protesters by employing attack dogs to disperse the crowd and put a final end to this perceived effrontery to the dominant culture.
As this is a new wrinkle in the oppression of the masses, the million-dollar question is who or what is supposed to be held accountable for any injuries caused by the use of these tactics by private interests? Is it now a civil matter, even though the state is saying that it is in the public interest to have this land for the pipeline, as the term “eminent domain” is as nebulous term imaginable in masking the interest of private corporations by way of determining land appropriation as an expression of the public good. Can the corporation be taken to civil court for these attacks? As the land is in the grey area of appropriation, is it public or private land at this juncture? These are all legal questions that aren’t being addressed because the hope was that this endeavor would cease all of the ongoing uproar in North Dakota. In addition, these ill-defined forms of accountability make it much more difficult for the aggrieved to seek redress from those in power.
In the end, the most important thing for this uprising is to not just relegate the movement to this pipeline and the leaders must speak honestly about the need to attend to all the inequalities that have been imposed on the natives on this particular reservation and the reservation system as a whole. Of the over 500 treaties that have been entered into between the government and the First Nations people, all have been broken in some form or fashion by the U.S. government. And these acts of broken treaties have been deemed legal by the same justice system that is supposed to be fair and balanced in its decision making as it purports to be based on an eponymous “rule of law”, something not reliant on the arbitrary positions of man. Yet, the U.S. populace readily believes this when all empirical evidence shows that this is anything but the case. Either the “rule of law” is faulty or our implementation of it is at issue. More than likely, it is just a nice term utilized by the powers that be to inculcate people into an imaginary belief that when the outcome of a particular case is not to their well being or liking it is because of the weakness of the case and not due to systemic biases related to the arbiters culturally inculcated belief that anglo ethnicity and the attending economic system is more important than any aggrievement of the indigenous.
Whatever the reason for these decisions, the fact of the matter is that Einstein once famously said that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. As such, there can be nothing more insane than expecting redress from the same justice system that has deemed 500 instances of broken treaties over a span of centuries to all of a sudden change course in this given instance regarding the ongoing pipeline conflict. Hence, this movement must be utilized as a tool to recognize, respect and ultimately implement the indigenous stated goals of self-determination, decolonization and self-government.
It is going to take a concerted effort that goes beyond a simplified NVDA that was used to allow black people the “privilege” of doing acts that are in hindsight trivial things, such using the same bathrooms as white people. The old stale tactics of the past can’t be used as the goals aren’t the same in this instance (self-determination from people who aren’t looking for integration as they want to be recognized as a sovereign nation within a nation) as those previously attempting to be obtained during the civil rights movement (an assimilationist integration based off of a wholly acknowledged acceptance regarding non-anglo inferiority by both oppressors and oppressed). To use sports as an analogy, this is akin to using a baseball bat on a soccer field or utilizing a hockey stick during a basketball game.
As this is the case, the strategy employed by the modern indigenous can’t be the same as those who preceded them in this country. As Cuba famously utilized its guerrilla strategy in assisting African nations in their battles to end European colonialism, the devices employed by the First Nation members must be different than anything ever employed previously. What is to stop the indigenous from aligning their interests with MEND in the Niger River Delta, whose enemy is also the multinational corporations trespassing on its land? This is another organization that is going through the same issues as the Standing River Sioux and numerous other tribes, like the Black Hill Sioux and their land being destroyed by uranium mining and coal mining on the Black Mesa plateau that has disaffected the water source of the Hopi and Navajo tribes. In addition, there needs to be a network of groups who have the same interests who must now band together with a common goal which is to stop the continuous encroachment of private interests in their particular domains at one level, as well as to address the fact that this will invariably be all of us.
When all is said and done, this protest in North Dakota is the only portion of this conflict that is for the good of the public as the pipeline itself is anything but a benefit to humans or any other life form, no matter what portions of the mainstream society profess in this regard. By any measurement of what is beneficial to the continuance of sentient beings on this Earth, the uprising in North Dakota is one of the few relevant ongoing acts presently. Although near-term human extinction (NTHE) is almost a certainty at this point, whatever portion of life that can be salvaged, be it human or otherwise, must start somewhere and it has to be at the grassroots level since the expectation that any portion of the establishment will save us is beyond insane when all evidence to this juncture has proven otherwise.
Ultimately, the First Nation members need to use this as a catalyst for an overall change in their collective living circumstances. Their problems reside in having their entire existence totally dependent on the goodwill of a white power structure that still sees them as savages. This structure, whose continuance is dependent on institutional racism, only gives a nod to the indigenous when they dress like them, use them as mascots or talk about the fact that their members’ great, great, great grandma was a First Nation member or something to that effect. Other than those few useless nods to the people and culture, the systemic need is to keep them isolated, weak and emaciated on a reservation where the only thing to be done is take the resources under their feet and relegate them to eternal impoverishment and disenfranchisement.
As the pipeline is a mere conduit of the resource that flows through its vessels, the uproarious response by the First Nations community is the conduit of the centuries long anger which as has been internalized on these outposts of human despair. We can only hope that the rupture of First Nation emotions will make all of the previous pipeline fissures pale in comparison.