It reminds me of the circumstances years ago surrounding the proposal to sink the nation’s first high level nuclear waste “dump”( facility) in Deaf Smith County near my home. There were meetings where inscrutably long documents in what seemed almost like another language circulated. Some of us sat in our seats cradling them hoping the oral presentations would make more sense. But there was a feeling talk was so much mumbo-jumbo. After all, when the DOE left and the waste site with them (a rider on a Reagan bill sure to pass got us off the hook), word was they left behind promises of letter jackets and computers for the local school.
But in this case the Standing Rock Sioux were not even consulted. I’m talking about the currently opposed Dakota pipeline to transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois. “This is not just a native thing,” one of the tribe members said. And it’s not. Witness other instances in which private land owners are ignored when pipelines or transmission lines or other private development projects hold sway. “Water is Life,” the tribe said concerned about possible leaks in relation to the Missouri River the Dakota Access Pipeline plans to drill under, to lay pipe. Echoes of other leakages, like at the Hansford site in Washington State. And echoes of essential concern, as the tribe also reminds us, for our children’s future.
We’re a country that prides itself in innovation, ingenuity, development but not so much seeing ahead. At the Deaf Smith proposed site, which could have impacted the Ogallala Aquifer lying underneath six states and a primary source of drinking and agricultural water, when pressed about technology one of the engineers proposed freezing the acquifer. Eye brows shot up among the locals; the engineers straight faced droned on. When the wind turbine industry lately took over the Panhandle horizon line near my home, I asked about how these giants might be taken down if the industry changed or failed. Eye brows shot down in disapproval. And the only answer that engineer could give is not a very likely one: “Dynamite,” he said.
I admire many things about how the Standing Rock people have gone about their protest and raising of awareness. The numbers. The pan-Indian support: Native people and others from all over the U.S. and foreign countries. Peaceful protest despite being harassed and bitten by private contractor dogs. There’s something heart-breaking in it too: the lines of horsemen, the flags, feathers, dancers. The largest gathering of Indian peoples together since the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Still standing despite colonization, ravaging, broken treaties, missionary schools.
Heart-breaking because they must still stand to protect what were supposed to be sovereign rights. Heart-breaking because they must still stand against utter marginalization. Not being taken seriously. Our First Nation People.
So when my friend got a text from someone here in Las Cruces, non-native, unable to travel to North Dakota to join the protest, but who felt an obligation, a privilege to show support, we followed up. A local downtown yoga group was throwing a party: sweat and stretch for justice. All proceeds would go to the tribe. We went. We gave a donation. People sat their mats in the dark with glowing colored bracelets. No feathers, no drums. But the money will be sent to Standing Rock.
Even out here on the fringes of the Southwest, we can stand–and sit–for one another. It’s not just a native thing.