I have been dismayed at how the rights of people have been stripped away to make way for dangerous oil pipelines. The fight against those efforts have gone on for years in Texas, the Midwest, and most recently in North Dakota, where Native Americans have banded together with other supporters to protect native lands and water from the Dakota Pipeline.
Instead of moving us away from our dependence on carbon-based sources of energy, the government seems intent on helping the oil companies amass as much wealth as possible without a glance into the future.
I was saddened to receive the following press release over the weekend:
Cannon Ball, North Dakota — On Friday, November 25, after the turkey was pardoned, the Obama Administration issued an eviction notice to the Oceti Sakowin encampments at Standing Rock. (The proper name for the people commonly known as the Sioux is Oceti Sakowin, meaning Seven Council Fires. The original Great Sioux Nation was made up of Seven Council Fires.)
We are a coalition of grassroots groups living and working at the encampments, and we will not be moved. We stand united in defiance of the black snake and are committed to defense of water, our Mother Earth, and our rights as Indigenous people. We call on all people of conscience, from all Nations, to join the encampments and stand with us as we put our bodies on the line.
The eviction notice came in a letter from the US Army Corps of Engineers to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, informing the tribe that on Dec. 5th, it will “close” all lands north of the Cannonball River, where the Oceti Sakowin encampment is located. It is sadly ironic that the Army Corps of Engineers has chosen Dec 5th, General George Armstrong Custer’s birthday, as the date it plans to evict people from the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Custer broke the treaty to dig for gold, the Army Corps is breaking the treaty over oil.
The Corps says its decision to clear the area is necessary to protect people from violent confrontations with law enforcement and to uphold the Corps’s land leases to private individuals for grazing and haying uses. It has designated a ‘free speech zone’ south of the Cannonball River, and anyone outside that area will be considered trespassing and subject to forcible removal and prosecution. Anyone that chooses to remain at the encampment “does so at their own risk, and assumes any and all corresponding liabilities for their unlawful presence.”
The Army Corps has no authority to evict us from these lands. The Oceti Sakowin encampment is located on the ancestral homeland of the Lakota, Mandan, Arikara, and Northern Cheyenne – on territory never ceded to the U.S. government, and affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation. The encampment is, in many respects, a reclamation of this stolen territory and the right to self-determination guaranteed in the treaties. Our water protectors are not trespassers and can never be trespassers. The Army Corps also has no authority to diminish our right to free speech – where in the Constitution does it establish zones for the right to free speech? Do corporations now decide whether the Constitution applies? We are not moving, and we will not be silenced.
As the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe noted in its response to the Army Corps, this decision “continues the cycle of racism and oppression imposed on our people and our lands throughout history.”
This is not the first time these lands have been destroyed at the behest of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The best of these lands were flooded by the Army Corps in the 1950s and 1960s – countless sacred sites were desecrated, the vast majority of the timber resources and wildlife destroyed, and thousands of people displaced. We will not stand by while the federal government continues this destructive narrative.
The Army Corps’s eviction notice is an aggressive threat to Indigenous peoples. It further empowers and emboldens a militarized police force that has already injured hundreds of unarmed, peaceful water protectors, and continues to escalate its tactics of brutality against us. It adds fuel to the fire of an ongoing human rights crisis.
The extreme escalation of violence by law enforcement in recent weeks demands immediate action from the Obama administration to de-escalate and demilitarize the law enforcement response, not to further criminalize us. As the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe pointed out in its response to the Army Corps, the only way to protect people is to deny the last outstanding easement required for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River. We call on the White House to deny the easement now, revoke the permits, and order a full Environmental Impact Statement in formal consultation with impacted tribal governments. Put an end to the violence.
In the meantime, we will stand our ground for the water and the unborn generations. Our fight is not just about a pipeline project. It is about 500 years of colonization and oppression. This is our moment, a chance to demand a future for our people and all people. We ask you to join us.