Standing Rock in America’s Tradition of Indigenous Suppression

Last Sunday, on December 4th, the US Army Corps of Engineers ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline could not cross a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Native American reservation.

The monumental decision to reroute the $3.7 billion oil project comes after the efforts of hundreds of water protectors in Standing Rock. For months, hundreds of protectors have opposed how the pipeline utterly disregarded Native American land and the community’s well-being. The destructive pipeline’s construction would threaten the reservation environmentally and economically and would cut through sacred burial grounds and waterways. (For more about the facts of Standing Rock, check out these helpful links)

Those in Standing Rock are also demonstrating against police brutality. Since April, when the Standing Rock resistance began, the peaceful water protectors have faced rubber bullets, intimidation, explosive tear gas grenades, uncontrolled police dogs, water cannons in freezing weather, and more – all of which have come directly from police in the camp. (What ever happened to police protecting citizens rather than protecting a destructive pipeline?)  Officers, by the way, who come to North Dakota from ten different states in the country, thanks to a President Clinton statue in 1996 about emergency resource sharing in America.

With those government-sanctioned injustices in mind, the US Army’s decision does give protectors a crucial victory as they enter winter. When we think about the Army’s ruling, too, it’s important to center that good news entirely on the determined efforts of water protectors in North Dakota. We all know that American government would not have rerouted the pipeline without the Native American-led demonstrations. That’s simply a reality.

I definitely recognize the Army’s correct decision, though. And, since their ruling, I have made sure to contextualize Standing Rock and better recognize its importance in American history.

Centuries ago, Native Americans fought to protect their land from European immigrants. Today, a genocide later, Native Americans are still defending their land. When thinking about the vast history of Native American people in America, from 1492 to 2016, it is vitally important to ask: What world power treats its indigenous population quite like America has treated Native American people?

That question is why I am left tragically unsurprised by the seemingly unprecedented intolerance currently in Standing Rock. This current exploitation of indigenous lives does not — at all — represent a new phenomenon in this “unified country.” What we are seeing on that North Dakota reservation is simply the continuation of a time-honed American tradition: the disregard of Native American lives.

The story of Native American land destruction follows a path inverse to America’s growth story. That land devastation has been consistent since Europeans first stepped foot on the continent and violently encroached on tribal land. The land theft remained consistent through hundreds of European-broken land treaties, which Europeans used to claim Native American land.

The harm continued as America, fueled by its imperialistic Manifest Destiny, created legislation like the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Indian Appropriations Act of 1851, which shoved tribes further and further away from their land. And, for over a century and a half since those acts, the American government has invested in the creation of reservations; often ignored areas that are left to tangibly feel the remnants Native American land theft from decades prior.

Clearly, the disregard of indigenous land is simply an American reality. And Standing Rock confirms this American continuum.

Fortunately, Standing Rock also grants us an opportunity to understand and, most importantly, criticize the way this nation treats its Native American community.  Standing Rock is a modern, visible example of how America suppresses Native American lives and Native American demonstrations against oppression. The country’s reaction to the water protectors — police violence, mandatory date for protectors to leave the camps, fines for people attempting to bring in supplies — all serve as evidence of America’s brutal disregard for Native American wellbeing.

On the flip side, Standing Rock demonstrations have represented an example of indigenous resistance finally being heard. The Army’s decision is vital in the timeline of Native American history, as the American government has (in a rare showing) enacted change that reflects the desires of the indigenous community.

With this current state of recognition, it is crucial that America inquires about how it can better empower its Native American community and how it can acknowledge its gruesome past interactions with the indigenous community. This country, a nation that has historically ignored its past transgressions against Native American lives, must now face the fact that active indigenous suppression and devaluing does exist and thrive in this country.

The battle against Native American exploitation isn’t over yet, despite the Army’s ruling. Native Americans are still being oppressed, suppressed, and ignored in this country, and it does not look like any significant efforts are being made to reverse that long-established trend in America. I just hope that, sometime soon, America’s history stops repeating. For centuries, Native Americans have resisted. And, for centuries, America has consistently pushed back against those liberation attempts.

Yet, I do remain confident that the strength of Native resistance will not cease until justice is delivered.