October 29, 2016: An estimated 30 Jingle Dress dancers took to the front line at Standing Rock. They danced about 150 yards away from where roughly nine armored police vehicles remained behind a wall of concrete barriers. [Video by Simon Moya-Smith via Facebook]
In Indian Country, one is often reminded that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) began in the Department of War. In 1829, both houses of Congress approved legislation allowing the president to establish of a Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to serve under the Secretary of War. It wasn’t until 1840 that the BIA was transferred to the Department of the Interior. Unfortunately, the reorganization didn’t change the mindset of “Indian agents” who abused the power of office to the detriment of tribes. Their behavior was so egregious, that in 1867 Congress established a Peace Commission to study reservation problems.
To Native Americans, the fact that the state of North Dakota is treating their water protectors as enemy combatants is just one more act of war in a long history of war. The images coming out of the 1851 Treaty Camp are stark. Military vehicles and police in riot gear are facing women dancing, wearing traditional jingle dresses [as shown in the video clip above]. 1851 Camp was named after the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, which ceded most of the land west of the Missouri River to Sioux Tribes. 1851 Camp is on land that was sold to Energy Transfer Partners in violation of a North Dakota law. While North Dakota and the pipeline company claim it is private land because of that sale, the tribes assert it is tribal land, granted to them by treaty — a treaty designed to stop wars on the plains and allow the construction of rail roads as America moved west.
Most media reporting on the events at Standing Rock have reported information given in press conferences by the state and police. In frustration, Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe held their own press conference asking that media seek the truth before reporting stories that have not been verified.
The chairmen assert that Energy Transfer Partners, characterized as a bad company, illegally purchased the land, and then asked the state of North Dakota to step in to protect industry. When the state did so, with the help of five other states, 40 Native Americans were injured, a detail missing in most reporting. They claim that elected state officials are on the side of oil and gas, not on the side of the people. The one person arrested on site for having an assault weapon was, in reality, security for the oil and gas company, trolling as a water protector.
Chairman Archambault is on record as saying that he is not against pipelines. He would like an investment in modernizing and repairing existing pipelines under the Missouri. He believes that would be economic development for both his tribe and North Dakota. He pointed out that there is an alternate route available. That route could go around Lake Oahe, instead of under the river. Industry does not like that solution; it would add expense to their project.
Chairman Frazier was incensed that a state named after his people, Dakota, is abusing the people. He was particularly angry about the way that people praying have been treated. An elder was pulled out of a sweat lodge and arrested for having an illegal fire. To the Sioux, fire and water are relatives, not resources. Invading a sweat lodge is a violation of religious freedom.
Chairman Frazier, who wrote a letter to the UN asking for military support, also recently met with President Obama to discuss this violation of Native American rights. He said he was disappointed in the conversation.
The Standing Rock Sioux, and their supporters, which include hundreds of other federally recognized tribes and many churches, are on the cutting edge of the environmental justice movement. The EPA defines environmental justice as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The EPA goes on to enumerate their goals in this movement: “EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys: the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”
The Standing Rock Sioux are the perfect example of why this movement is so important. They were not consulted. They are not protected. They are worried about the health of their nation and the water that we all depend on for life. Further illustrating this lack of concern for the Sioux is the fact that the original route went north of Bismarck, but the city didn’t want it, so it was re-routed through Indian Country.
I stand with the Standing Rock Sioux and the EPA. Too often minority voices are ignored.
*Claudette Konola is an environmental and civil rights activist living in Mesa County. Follow her on Facebook.
“My roots run deep in Indian Country. I was born in Deadwood, SD, in the heart of Paha Sapa, the sacred mountains that were taken from the Sioux when gold was discovered. Growing up in the Black Hills one is constantly reminded of the Native American influence in Paha Sapa. I don’t remember many of the names of my schoolmates from 50 years ago, but I do remember Carolyn Wells. She was the most exotic person I had ever met. She was Native American and I was always curious about who she was and why she was so different. I remember cheekily asking my grandfather once if he was really part Indian, or just a liar. His blue eyes twinkled as he answered, ‘both.’ I never claim to be part Indian, but there are lots of Sioux with the name Laravee, which is an alternate spelling of my grandfather’s name, Lairve. Certainly his response created even more curiosity in the little girl who was already curious. Could I be as exotic as Carolyn Wells?”