Which side are we on?

Photo credit J. Arthur AndersonBY DAVE TILSEN

Hennepin County police are busting heads in North Dakota?  How did that happen?  Most of us have heard about the oil boom in North Dakota.  It has generated jobs, but also problems: “Boom Towns,” earthquakes, money for some people, exploitation for others.
For the Indian People, who have lived there for generations, in this delicate frail semi-arid windblown part of western North Dakota and South Dakota, and for whom change has become a constant, it has caused anxiety.  Their scientists talk about parts per million and parts per billion of petroleum in the aquifers and surface water, and the children who grew up learning about their spiritual connection to the land and water, can talk like hydrologists about how their water flows.  The damming of two rivers just 60 years ago, which caused massive death and relocation is still in the stories told by grandparents to their grandchildren.
When the Standing Rock tribe exerted its sovereignty a couple of years ago and denied permission for a pipeline to carry oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota across their land they had complete support of their membership.  They believed they were protecting the water, the sacred burial places of their ancestors, and the sacred relics created by the rivers there.  They expected the law to be respected and the earth to be protected.  The private company that was building the pipeline was not willing to budge, and found a willing ally in the State of North Dakota.
Young people ran from their reservation to Washington, D.C., last April to bring attention to the importance of water.
When the pipeline started to cross the reservation boundary last summer, the tribe was not going to sit still. The charismatic, and well-respected young chairman, David Archambault, stood at the border and said they did not have permission to pass.  When he was arrested, an unprecedented thing happened in Indian country.  Hundreds of Native tribes and thousands of Native people from all over the United States and Canada came to South Dakota to support this small tribe.  Then more thousands of environmentalists, young people who were working on the Bernie campaign and human rights advocates came and started to take notice.  On Labor Day, 5,000 people were camped out, the pipeline was not progressing on the reservation, and the police sent dogs on the campers, and charged reporters with riot.
The analysis of the danger of the pipeline tunneling under the Missouri River finally started to get the attention of some of the national environmental organizations.  The Missouri River is a major tributary to the Mississippi and together they are a major source of drinking water for the central United States.  When President Obama was asked about this situation on a trip to Laos just after Labor Day, it seemed to put this on his radar.
Although this is not a federal project, the tunneling under the Missouri River does require the involvement of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The President put that on hold.  The President also asked the corporation to halt its construction at least near the river until the federal courts had ruled.  They ignored this request.
In the face of heavily armed police looking like solders with tanks and jeeps, the “Water Protectors” have been extremely disciplined in nonviolence and are being led by the spiritual leaders of the Standing Rock Tribe.  The Elders set the terms, no violence of any kind.  Gandhi or King would have very little adjustment to make feeling comfortable in these demonstrations.  There is no problem in my mind deciding who is on the right side of history.
The North Dakota police have requested assistance from other law enforcement agencies to help them support this private corporation to build this pipeline, arrest peaceful protesters, violate another Indian treaty, and threaten our water.
The Hennepin County sheriff responded.  On Oct. 23, Sheriff Stanek sent at least 30 officers and an unknown amount of equipment.  Three of the Hennepin County commissioners, including Peter McLaughlin, who represents most of South Minneapolis, issued statements opposing this action.  I hope they can do more than issue a statement. (According to the Sheriff’s Office, the officers have returned to Minnesota from Standing Rock.)
The Minneapolis City Council has passed a declaration in support of the Water Protectors, but Mayor Hodges has not signed it.
There continue to be demonstrations and sit-ins.  Many South High Native students and supporters walked out on Oct. 28 to join the demonstration at the Sheriff’s Office.  Some of the students have gone up to Standing Rock.

One Comment:

  1. Which side are you on boys?
    Which side are you on?

    It is sad that lines are drawn and sides are chosen. Clearly, alternatives
    are available and ignored.

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