Here is a sentence I never expected to type: I am transfixed by North Dakota.
Specifically, I am transfixed by the events unfolding in North Dakota right now.
For those of you not yet in the know, North Dakota is where the Standing Rock Sioux, other Native American tribes, and their supporters are gathered in protest of a multi-million-dollar oil pipeline project being built across reservation lands, destroying cultural heritage sites and endangering local water supplies. [Here’s a primer, current up to five days ago.]
Honestly, I’d be hard-pressed to locate North Dakota on a map. Both Dakotas fall into my schema of the US states as “one of those square ones in the middle,” and on days like this, I wish my early teachers had felt a little more oomph to teach us the states, instead of the European map I had to draw year after year. (Pointing out Yugoslavia on a topo has proven to be not quite the necessary life skill my Sedgewick Junior High social studies department apparently expected.)
But these past few weeks? I cannot look away.
The tribal members gathering at the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux now form the largest assemblage of Native Americans in more than 100 years. Each time a new video comes out showing another group arriving at the protest site in North Dakota, I find myself tearing up. Like this video of the Puyallup arriving at the protest encampment two days ago, together with native peoples from Alaska.
Or this one from four days ago in which, in the words of the videographer, “Aztecs are coming.”
For far too long—since almost the beginning of our colonial history and lasting to the present day—the stories settler folks tell of this continent’s indigenous people have sought to disappear both the human beings and the violence perpetrated against them. The vanishing native. The last of the Mohicans.
forcibly blank ed space, white USians have poured our own insecurities—and from it drawn new mythologies, in which we imagine ourselves enhanced by our defeated enemy’s power as surely as any fictional Magua consuming his conquered victim’s heart upon a battlefield.
Sports teams rely on this mythology to enhance the ferocity of their image, as Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers go head-to-head against the Washington Slurs and the Cleveland Racist Cartoons, despite decades of native protest. Environmentalists use a single tear rolling down the face of a “Cherokee-Cree” actor, née child of Sicillian immigrants, to sell us on conservation: our pristine land is vanishing together with the pristine people we imagine having once walked it. The Crying Indian himself comes across as anachronism, properly belonging to a history as long ago and far away as any young Jedi boy’s dream.
From war-whoops and facepaint disguises at the Boston Tea Party to construction paper headdresses and “happy Indian” fairy tales at elementary schools every Thanksgiving, we turn the original inhabitants of these lands and their present-day descendants into nothing but fodder for cosplay. As Dr. Adrienne Keene, the Cherokee scholar behind Native Appropriations, hollers to remind us every year come Halloween: their cultures are not ours to make costume.
Yet still we persist.
And so do they.
Today, these very-much-present-day people are persisting—and resisting, and protesting—at the Sacred Stone Camp.
They protest despite bulldozers redirected to decimate sacred tribal burial sites one day after the location was identified in a court filing, leaving the hallowed ground now “hollow ground,” in the words of Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II.
Despite private security contractors who come at them with pepper spray and attack dogs—weaponized animals which Saturday bit a pregnant woman (among others) and put a little girl in the hospital.
Despite long legal odds.
Today I take up space in solidarity with the tribes and other individuals gathered on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. I raise my voice with theirs to say: Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Water is life.
Native lives matter.
h/t Native Lives Matter on Facebook, my go-to location for information on the protest