|Winter in the snow at Oceti Sakowin Camp.|
Urgent Update—Prayers evidently work! This afternoon, on the eve of its eviction notice, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they were denying the Dakota Access Pipe Line to continue work, including crossing under the Missouri River. The unexpected announcement was made at a gathering in the Big Circle of the Oceti Sakowin Camp which was broadcast live on Standing Rock Resistance Radio. Details are sketchy, including what it means for the eviction notice, but the Water Protectors are cautiously hopeful that their struggle has been vindicated. Here is the statement was released by Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II.
“Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, the Corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes. We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision.
We want to thank everyone who played a role in advocating for this cause. We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement. We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause. We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us, and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent, and money to our efforts to stand against this pipeline in the name of protecting our water. We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready to stand with you if and when your people are in need.
Throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner – and that is how we will respond to this decision. With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well. We look forward to celebrating in wopila, in thanks, in the coming days.
We hope that Kelcey Warren, Governor Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point. When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes.
Treaties are paramount law and must be respected, and we welcome dialogue on how to continue to honor that moving forward. We are not opposed to energy independence, economic development, or national security concerns but we must ensure that these decisions are made with the considerations of our Indigenous peoples.
To our local law enforcement, I hope that we can work together to heal our relationship as we all work to protect the lives and safety of our people. I recognize the extreme stress that the situation caused and look forward to a future that reflects more mutual understanding and respect.
Again, we are deeply appreciative that the Obama Administration took the time and effort to genuinely consider the broad spectrum of tribal concerns. In a system that has continuously been stacked against us from every angle, it took tremendous courage to take a new approach to our nation-to-nation relationship, and we will be forever grateful.
Apparently the Obama administration was playing its cards much closer to the vest than anyone expected.
I have been working almost all day, except for time at church, on the blog entry below which I had nearly finished when I learned of this development. I am posting it anyway, although obviously some of the speculation is now void, because it is still a good summary of recent developments.
|What this year's Winter Count might look like.|
In the tradition of the Dakota, Lakota, and other nations of the Northern Plains, winter was a time of hunkering down in camps erected in spots as sheltered as possible. The people warmed themselves in thick buffalo robes around fires burning in the lodges. They sustained themselves on the smoked meat carefully put away from the summer and fall hunts and with the songs and stories handed down from generations. It was the time of warm bodies in the robes making babies so that the people endured. It was also a time when holy men preserved the story of the people in the in the Winter Count, pictograms painted on a scrapped buffalo hide recoding the important events of the year just completed. On these hides were recorded successful hunts, unusually large summer gatherings of the scattered people and their visiting cousins from other nations, years of famine and disease, the great convocation of the tribes and the Ft. Laramie Treaty, triumphs of war like the Battle of Greasy Grass called by the White men Little Big Horn, and bitter defeats like the slaughter at Wounded Knee.
Through the long years since they were pent up and forgotten on reservation islands in the vast midst of the Great Sioux Nation lands that were never ceded in any treaty, the holy men kept up the Winter Counts. This year the pictogram is likely to look something like this:
Winter has arrived full force at the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the forward camp of the water protectors called by the Standing Rock Sioux to stop the Dakota AccessPipe Line (DAPL) from crossing sacred tribal lands and burrowing under the Missouri River, source of drinking water for millions. Heavy snows have come making the unplowed roads to the camp nearly impassable and temperatures are plunging. An Arctic air mass will sink deep down into the Upper Midwest early this week bring temperatures to near zero and howling winds that will make it feel much colder. Yet the People are undeterred. They are prepared to spend the winter.
So it was not without irony that after a force of local sheriff’s deputies, North Dakota State Police, supporting Police units drawn from jurisdictions and departments far and wide, and North Dakota National Guard attacked non-violent and non-threatening Water Protectors on a bridge with water cannon in sub-freezing temperatures and with barrages of rubber bullets, concussion grenades, tear gas, and pepper spray injuring scores, the Army Corps of Engineers, which claims jurisdiction for the land upon which Oceti Sakowin was built, issued an eviction notice effective Monday, December 5.
In a statement released stealthily late in the afternoon on the Day after Thanksgiving when most Americans were expected to not be paying attention to the news, the Corps announced that they were ordering the eviction of the Camp and that anyone still there would be subject to Federal arrest and prosecution. They even claimed concern for the health and safety of the Water Protectors.
This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions.
|Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II.|
Of course Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II decried the order pointing out that his people had survived such winters on the Plains for Hundreds of years and that the only threat to the health and safety of the Water Protectors came from the brutal and aggressive tactics of police.
The order, of course, led to fear and uncertainty—what were the government’s intentions? Did it mean to enforce the order by forcefully moving against the camp? If so, what forces would be deployed—the existing mix of police and National Guard which had already proved repeatedly to be prone to heavy handed violence, U.S. Marshalls with a historic grudge against Native American activists since two of them were killed at Wounded Knee, or perhaps ever regular Federal Troops—the Corps of Engineers is, after all a part of the Army—who could be deployed under still existing 19th Century that allow Native Americans to be declared renegade and subject to military action.
Despite the best attempts of authorities to keep word of the impending eviction under the blanket, including a concerted campaign by local law enforcement to scrub social media of coverage by challenging posts with images of police abuse as hate speech or abetting terrorism getting Facebook and other platforms to remove them and targeting reporters with physical attack and arrest on ludicrous rioting charges, public outrage grew quickly. The White House, Justice Department, Congress, and the Corps were all deluged with e-mail, phone calls, and petitions. Some of the mainstream media took notice and there was an up-tick of news coverage. The mighty New York Times even railed against the injustice in an editorial.
The Feds began to back pedal. They announced that they never had an intention to forcefully evict the Water Protectors and camp while emphasizing that trespassers would be prosecuted, a mixed message at best. State and local authorities were not quite on board with the Fed’s squishiness. They announced a virtual siege of the camp, saying that they would close roads and prevent food, medicine, other supplies, and additional volunteers from reaching the camp. Although they have made getting there more difficult and have harassed those trying to reach camp, they have not yet imposed a complete blockade perhaps waiting for the Corps’ eviction notice to come into play. Recent heavy snow has done some of the work for them. Both the State Police and Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, who has led the attacks on the Water Protectors also refused to rule out the use of force in future evictions.
Authorities also leaned on local businesses who were selling supplies to people from the camp. The locally owned Ace Hardware in near-by Mandan where routine supplies like propane tanks, batteries, gloves, tools, and construction materials were purchased posted an announcement that at the request of State Police they would no longer sell to the Water protectors or those going to join them. That caused a national uproar and a call for a nationwide boycott of Ace Stores. After a couple of days Ace corporate headquarters issued an announcement that that there was no ban and the Mandan store would service all customers. However the local store has not made a similar statement and it is unclear what they are actually doing.
The state of North Dakota was continuing to get a black eye in the media and calls for boycotting the state’s products and threats of disrupting its tourist industry caused Governor Jack Dalrymple to say on Wednesday that it was “never the State’s plan” to try and oust the Water Protectors by force, despite ample evidence that just such action had been in the planning stages for days.
Tribal Chairman Archambault, the spiritual leaders of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, and representatives of Native American organizations, and of many of the dozens of tribes and nations on hand have expressed deep disappointment in President Obama who has waffled on the issue for months. After calling on the Corps to halt construction near the Standing Rock and on the pipe line company to suspend construction while considering re-routing the project away from tribal lands, he avoided comment on the growing controversy. When he failed to mention anything about the situation in his Thanksgiving message, an occasion tailor made for addressing Native American concerns, Archambault knew that the President was abandoning the Water Protectors and would allow pipeline construction to continue. Attorney General Lynch’s statement on Friday confirmed that.
Had the President just sold out? Or was he always a creature of energy interests and the big banks like Citi Corp. and Wells Fargo that are heavily invested in the project? The best spin that can be put on it—and the top will wobble and topple on the weak throw—if that Obama was trying to end the confrontation before Donald Trump takes office in January. Trump is personally invested in the pipeline company and deeply beholden to the mega energy companies. During the campaign he publicly waxed nostalgic for the very harsh treatment of demonstrators that supposedly insured tranquility in the “good old days.” The overt racists of the fashionably named Alt-Right—read neo-fascists and White supremacists—who he has welcomed into the bosom of his nascent administration are as hostile to Native Americans as any other swarthy minority and have written wistfully in their media about a “Sand Creek or Wounded Knee solution.” Trump might be just the one to invoke those rusty renegade laws and maybe order in the 7th Cavalry just for old time’s sake.
On the frigid plains of the Dakotas it makes little difference who is President. Expectations are for more of what the people have always gotten—abuse and repression. But now there is a determination to resist with prayerful non-violence and the united support of Native nations and aboriginal peoples from around the world. A more support has arrived today.
|Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle.|
Even before the Corps of Engineers’ ultimatum Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, called for a second Interfaith Day of Prayer for today, Sunday, December 4:
The hearts of all people’s faiths must now unite in believing we can change the path we are now on. We, from heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the world to unite for our children’s future. Already we have witnessed many nations of life are now dying because of contamination: those that swim, those that crawl, those that fly, the plant nation, the four legged, and now the two legged.
We are asking the religious people to come and support our youth, to stand side by side with them, because they are standing in prayer. If you can find it in your heart, pray with them and stand beside them. The police department and National Guard would listen to each and every one of you.
This is a very serious time we are in. I know in my heart there are millions of people that feel this is long overdue. It is time that all of us become leaders to help protect the sacred upon Mother Earth. She is the source of life and not a resource.
In a Sacred Hoop of Life, where there is no ending and no beginning.
Clergy and laypeople from many Christian denominations, Jews, Muslims, Buddhist’s, and practitioners of various traditional religions have rallied to the call. Hundreds arrived in Mandan for the journey to Oceti Sakowin Camp early this morning for a sunrise water ceremony, interfaith prayers, a communal meal, and time to informal meet and mingle with Water Protectors. That includes a sizable contingent of Unitarian Universalists Standing on the Side of Love with the people. That includes the Rev. Karen Van Fossan of the Bismarck-Mandan Unitarian Universalist Congregation; Rev. Meg Riley, a veteran activist and Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship; the Rev. Fred Small, Co-Chair of Religious Witness for the Earth and minister of First Parish, Cambridge and many others.
|Tree of Life's Janet Burns posted this photo today on Facebook as an invitation to join the prayer.|
Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois is represented today by Janet Burns, Co-Chair of the Social Justice Committee and a long-time leader in the congregation’s religious education program and her daughter Nora, a young adult leader.
In addition, prayers were offered up in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, congregations, and by individuals across North America. At this morning’s worship service at Tree of Life a payers was offered about the time of the inter-faith service at Oceti Sakowin.
While most of the Clergy and laity will return to their homes to continue to rally support for the Water Protectors, some will stay in Camp to bear witness as the eviction notice becomes official.
|Veterans deploying around Oceti Sakowin Camp|
An even larger group of veterans have been arriving in Camp over the past few days. The volunteer mobilization called by Army vet and environmental activist Wesley Clark, Jr, son of General Wesley Clark, former U.S. Commander in Europe and briefly a 2004 Democratic candidate in the presidential primaries, and former Marine Michael Wood Jr. of Veterans for Standing Rock. So far more than 2,000 former military have responded to the call with more registering daily. On Saturday the first deployment occurred near the closed highway bridge where water protectors were attacked with water cannon. A larger contingent is expected to arrive at camp today.
The plan is to encircle the camp and place veterans between the Water Protectors and authorities to act as human shields. Clark is counting on the discipline and experience of the veterans to remain a non-violent wall.
Among the vets of all recent conflicts and even some from World War II and Korea are many Native Americans who serve in the Armed Forces in greater numbers relative to population than any other racial or ethnic group. Some are coming in organized groups. The Navaho or Dine of Arizona and New Mexico, who highly esteem their vets, organized a large contingent. They originally chartered a plane to fly them to Bismarck, but when the airline discovered who they were and why they were traveling, the company more than doubled the price. It may have been “encouraged” by the government to throw a last minute monkey wrench into the plans. Tribal leaders scrambled and with money given them by Nurses United, a California based union, the chartered three buses to take the vets on the grueling 36 hour trip to the deployment starting spot at Cannonball.
Some reports said that up to 4,000 veterans we in or near the camp today, despite attempts by conservative North Dakota Veterans organizations including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars to dissuade the deployment and vilify those who responded. The Lonnie Wangen, the Commissioner of North Dakota’s Department of Veterans Affairs, even went so far as to smear participants by charging:
We’re going to have veterans that we don’t know anything about coming to the state, war time veterans possibly with PTSD and other issues. They’re going to be standing on the other side of concertina fence looking at our law enforcement and our [National] Guard, many of whom have served in war zones also.”