My assistant, Aleisha, asked suddenly, “Can I take off a day early? I have a chance to drive to Standing Rock with my friend.”
The answer of course was “Yes.” I was reminded of the civil rights days when we would get a call that a voter registration center was being attacked, and six of us would bundle into a car, drive all night and when we got to Mississippi do what we could. It made the local police just a little bit more careful knowing their outrages were being witnessed by outsiders.
Fast forward. I call them Thelma and Louise -- After an 18-hour straight-through drive, Aleisha and her warrior sister are in Standing Rock right now. Not by some fancy Hollywood Star whoop-de-doo jet with 500 roast chickens accompanied by video people and publicists (still a good thing to do), but just two human beings driving through the night to support our indigenous friends. Much in the same spirit as a great number of Veterans Against the War who are now caravanning to that remote North Dakota location.
There is a constitutional right to peaceful protest. But that right is going up against a 3.7 BILLION DOLLAR oil industry pipe line. The latest news is that a police water cannon was used against protestors in freezing weather! Many have been shot with what the mainstream media calls “rubber bullets” which in fact are bullets made of hard plastic which can break a skull open at close range. A crop duster type plane flew over the encampment spraying an unknown chemical cloud (not tear gas). Add stun grenades and CS gas outlawed by the Geneva convention.
Why isn’t Obama’s Justice department doing anything to protect protestors from these felony assaults? If the Justice Department intervenes in the deep South, why not North Dakota?
In the mainstream news media legalistic accounts abound. Raising questions about just what boundaries of the Sioux reservation are being trespassed? Where are their sacred areas? And all questioning the legal validity of the Sioux’s ongoing protest.
To understand the growing Standing Rock protest a bigger picture is essential. This is really part of a long war for identity, the very existence of culture called "Sioux."
After the U.S. civil war, the 7 tribes of the Sioux nation were destroyed at the same time of a government policy also consciously exterminating the great herds of bison that were critical to the Sioux way of life. From the Federal level down, what amounts to genocide was conducted against the Sioux nation. According to experts, since the arrival of the U.S. army with their broken treaties only 5% to 10% of the Sioux are left. It’s a cruel joke, to tell people fenced into small reservations that much of the oil pipeline isn’t running through their lands when at one time it was all their land.
A curious political question is why isn’t President Obama doing anything? At one point the Army Corps of Engineers fast-tracked the pipeline construction plans. Why not halt construction until clear safe plans are made including the proposal to run a pipeline under the Missouri river? In the era of Global Warming we are supposed to be moving away from petroleum and toward environmentally friendly alternative energy production like solar and wind. Why the fast track? Why has the Obama team caved into the Oil industry? Maybe because they thought nobody would protest grading a 150-foot-wide 1,670 mile clear cut through basically untouched lands?
But the indigenous Sioux know their history. So the Sioux are making what amounts to a last stand for their rights.
Above I used a real photo of Sitting Bull to remind us that the Sioux nation fought the U.S. army on these very lands and defeated General Custer. That was 140 years ago. Although the Sioux can only use peaceful tactics now, clearly that struggle hasn’t ended. --------- That’s my really great Thanksgiving: History is not forgotten. And caring people are heading to freezing North Dakota to do something a bit more important than talking about Turkey dressing and watching football.
Jeff Shero Nightbyrd © 2016
Jeff Nightbyrd is a journalist and talent scout who lives in Austin. He was the co-founder of the original Austin Sun.