Christmas Comes Early at Standing Rock–for now

It was what we consider a cold morning here in the desert.  Maybe 41 degrees, a stout wind out of the north.  My partner and I are dressed like snowmen: I at least have two layers on, gloves, two caps.  We often take early Sunday morning bird walks, but this morning the birds were smartly hunkered down in the scrub mesquite or elsewhere.

Lately, well since last spring, but particularly now it’s winter, we walk wondering: what’s it like at Standing Rock where thousands of people are protesting–protesting the route of the Dakota pipeline through sacred Sioux grounds and its projection to pass under the Missouri River, raising issues of future leaks and contamination.  At the heart of the protest are many issues–environmental racism, environmental concerns, Native rights, Native treaty rights, equitable representation.  For the pipeline company and maybe even the Army Corps of Engineers land is out there, something to be used, developed, commercialized.  Pure and simple, a business deal, but smacking of Manifest Destiny of these long years past.

It’s not clear how seriously the early objections of the Standing Rock Sioux were vetted, listened to, sanctioned in proper hearings.  But today what it’s like at Standing Rock is a high of 34 degrees, now 21 degrees as I write and the celebration of a ruling by the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the pipeline thus allowing for future environmental assessments in seeking an alternative route.  Christmas may have come early at Standing Rock.

For me, the issue is larger than Standing Rock itself, though this has been an amazing and awe-inspiring example of democratic expression, sacrifice, and perseverance, particularly given the history of First Nation peoples in regard to treaty rights and promises broken by the U.S. government.  They have made us realize even more.

The issue is how we view the earth itself.  Is it a commodity to be used and exploited, a commercial venture, something “out there,” other?  Or is it us?  Leslie Silko, Laguna writer ,has said that landscape is not something out there.  “We are part of the very boulders we stand on,” she has said.  To feel a part of the environment–what many native people honor as a way of life–is to not objectify nature but to celebrate it, love, honor, protect it.

Is it wise to run an oil pipeline under the Missouri River?  Was it wise for the DOE to propose “freezing” the Ogallala Aquifer years ago  in order to create the first large nuclear waste facility in the Texas Panhandle?  There are countless examples of technology hubris in our country which account for action that does not take into consideration either the past or the future.

If we love our hearts, souls, bodies, selves and our neighbors’, then  we must care for the land as it is us.  Standing Rock, Merry Christmas, and may we all celebrate with you a deeper understanding of our own humanity.  In 47 days we will all have to keep these thoughts and actions close again for we will have a new president, one who has lived in a tower and not in 21 degree weather on the wind-swept plains.

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