My time at Standing Rock

My time at Standing Rock

Tuesday December 20, 2016

In early November, I witnessed the lighting of the Seven Council Fire at the Oceti Sakowin Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

By Ethan Buckner, Climate Campaigner, Stand.earth

In early November, I witnessed the lighting of the Seven Council Fire at the Oceti Sakowin Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Around me, the shimmering sunshine bathed the land in gold, offering some much-needed heat to the hundreds of fierce water protectors gathered for the lighting ceremony. Surveillance planes buzzed overhead. Across the next ridge, pipeline construction equipment loomed ominously. 

My friend Aldo, a longtime pipeline fighter, came up to me towards the end of the ceremony. 

“You have to know,” he said. “What’s happening here hasn’t happened in over 150 years.”

What Aldo was referring to wasn’t the fact that Indigenous Peoples are standing up to protect their land and water. After all, this resistance is nothing new. Whether the aggressors are government or corporations - or often both in the case of fossil fuel infrastructure projects - Indigenous Peoples have been subjected to a nearly-continuous wave of violence, forced displacement, and exploitation since first contact. The struggle to stop oil companies from building dangerous and exploitive pipelines and oil train terminals is the latest chapter in a 400-year long struggle for sovereignty and self-determination. The history of colonization has a long and powerful history of resistance -- a narrative still playing out in real time across continents.

What I experienced on that shimmering November morning was the demonstration of Indigenous strength and solidarity. Standing Rock has united hundreds of tribes from across North America and inspired tens of thousands of allies to answer the call to action. Anchored by Indigenous leadership, history, and tradition, water protectors at Standing Rock continue to persevere despite tremendous repression and the harshest conditions.

Less than a month after that ceremony, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe secured an interim but critical win against the Dakota Access Pipeline when the Army Corps of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partners an easement to drill under Lake Oahe, a sacred burial site and crucial drinking water source for the reservation. The historic #NoDAPL struggle is the latest chapter of a 400-year-long living history of indigenous resistance. 

Across the US and Canada, Indigenous communities are protecting water, air, and land - and are uniting in unprecedented ways to do so. In September 2016, more than 50 Indigenous nations and tribes signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, stating that “Tar Sands expansion is a collective threat to our Nations” that “requires a collective response.” The treaty commits each nation to “collectively challenge and resist the use of our respective territories and coasts in connection with the expansion of the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including for the transport of such expanded production, whether by pipeline, rail, or tanker.” As of December 1st, 2016, 115 nations and tribes have signed the treaty. 

Indigenous leaders have long pointed out the threat these pipeline and oil train projects pose to water, air, climate, and sacred sites. But beyond the immediate impacts of oil projects, Indigenous resistance to Big Oil’s expansion plans goes much deeper. We’re in the midst of a historic moment for the centuries-long struggle for Indigenous sovereignty. At Stand.earth, we stand with Standing Rock and all Indigenous Peoples fighting for their past, present and future. 

Read more about the importance of understanding treaties and indigenous leadership here.