We Are Still Here, We PersevereA Dispatch from Standing Rock

At the Oceti Sakowin Camp, a field medic wears a red headband that reads: “Water is Life.” A large wood fire behind her blocks a road. Photo by Avery White (Creative Commons).

The scene from Standing Rock this weekend was grim: On Sunday night, at the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline protest, police injured an estimated 300 people, using water cannons, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets. Police sprayed unarmed groups of water protectors with fire hoses in below-freezing weather, inducing hypothermia. Though police deny using concussion grenades on the crowd, activists on the scene report otherwise—including one woman whose arm is now possibly going to be amputated because of her injuries. (You can donate to Sophia Wilansky’s medical fund here).

To everyone talking about what state violence will look like under a Trump administration: This is state violence under Obama.

Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and even the United Nations have decried the violent police tactics being used in North Dakota. But you wouldn’t know about these injuries by reading most news from the scene. While outlets like Democracy Now! have documented the police’s violent approach to the activists, this is how CNN reported what happened Sunday night in an article titled “Dakota Access Pipeline clashes turn violent”:

“Protesters set a dozen fires near the bridge, police said. On Sunday night, police released a statement saying that the protesters ‘attempted to flank and attack the law enforcement line from the west,’ describing their actions as ‘very aggressive.’”

The article continues to quote the Morton County Sheriff’s Department: 

“But police say some of the protesters were not peaceful and that water was used to put out fires as well as to control the crowds.

‘There are multiple fires being set by protesters on the bridge and in the area of the bridge,’ said Donnell Hushka, spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. ‘We have fire trucks on the scene [and] they are using their fire hoses to put out the fires, wet the land around so fires don’t spread, and they are also using water as crowd control.”

A scene from November 20 at Standing Rock. Photo by Dark Sevier (Creative Commons).
Given the grave human rights abuses occurring in North Dakota, this kind of reporting is not only inaccurate, but irresponsible. Exercising First Amendment rights in the United States should not result in the loss of life or limb. The reckless actions of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department have threatened the lives of hundreds. Monday evening, people gathered at CNN’s headquarters to call on the news station to accurately and ethically report what is happening in North Dakota. Hundreds of people are willing to risk their lives at Standing Rock because the stakes feel so high. Construction of the pipeline has already destroyed sacred burial sites and, violated the treaty rights of the Oceti Sakowin, and its current path threatens the tribe’s clean drinking water. North Dakota produces more oil than any other state, and most of this extraction happens on tribal lands. Over 200 Tribal Nations have joined Standing Rock in their stand for water, life, and tribal sovereignty.
It is inaccurate to describe violence that is wholly one-sided as a “clash.” The violence at Standing Rock is escalating because the police have started using life-threatening tactics and weapons on unarmed groups of people. It is inaccurate to describe military tactics that injured 300 people as “crowd control.”
What is true is that in the face of extreme police violence, water protectors have shown incredible restraint and self control that is grounded in the spiritual leadership and practice of the camp. Water protectors are unarmed. No weapons, drugs, or alcohol are allowed in the camp. Every action is led in prayer. Earlier this month, after police arrested 268 people and kept some of them in dog kennels, water protectors organized a ceremony of forgiveness at the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.

In an action I attended on October 15, our elders told us not to cuss or use violent language. Women offered the police tobacco and water. When our group was met with 100 armed police, equipped with riot gear and an army tank, we stopped and prayed at the police line. Our elders said, “They want to say that we are rioting. Let us show the outside world that we come in prayer.”

CNN is not the only news outlet that has failed to accurately cover the Dakota Access Pipeline. Despite being one of the largest and longest demonstrations for civil and human rights in the history of the United States, the fight in North Dakota has received relatively little mainstream media attention.

Standing Rock isn’t the first time Native Americans have stood up for our rights. It’s just the first time in recent history that the non-Native world has paid attention. Anti-Indigenous racism functions through erasure. For the American story to come true, as Native people, we can no longer exist. We cannot be seen. Whenever I hear people talk about the extreme violence perpetrated against Native Americans by the U.S. government, I hear even “educated” and “liberal” people talk about it in the past tense. As if it is over. As if we are all already dead. The well-kept secret is that the genocide against the Indigenous people of this land never ended. We are a strong and resilient people. We are still here.

Here’s what you can do to support Standing Rock:

  • Tell major news outlets like CNN that they must accurately and fully report the human rights violations happening in North Dakota. Here is a list of news desks to call.

  • To get more accurate information about what is happening in North Dakota, you can follow Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,  Red Warrior Camp, and Sacred Stone Camp on Facebook. Read news from Native news outlets. Some of our major news outlets reporting from Indian Country include Indian Country Today Media Network, Native News Online, and Indianz.com.

  • Water protectors desperately need funds for medical supplies, legal defense, and winterizing the camp. Donate directly to the Oceti Sakowin Camp (the main camp) here. Donate directly to the legal defense fund here. Donate to the medics on the front lines here.

  • This level of violence cannot continue. Tell President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the Pipeline. Contact information and talking points can be found here.

by Rebecca Nagle
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Rebecca Nagle is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and a Two Spirit woman. She is the codirector and cofounder of the Monument Quilt and FORCE Upsetting Rape Culture.

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1 Comment Has Been Posted

Great article! I've seen more

Great article! I've seen more outlets start picking this up in recent weeks, but it's definitely something that should have been reported on earlier and more in-depth. Not enough news outlets are framing this as first amendment issue, and, from my point of view, it seems like Native American issues are largely ignored in general by the media and the public.

One quip I have with the article - you state that "North Dakota produces more oil than any other state, and most of this extraction happens on tribal lands." While it's true that a ton of oil extraction happens on tribal lands, I don't think North Dakota produces more oil than any other state. That honor would belong to Texas, which accounts for 1/3 of the oil produced in the U.S. Looking at EIA data, in August (the most recent month available), Texas produced 3,000 barrels of crude oil per day, while North Dakota produced less than 1,000.


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