Water is Life
A guest post from Kimberley Williams highlighting the plight of Standing Rock and suggesting ways to get involved and offer support. Many thanks to Kimberley for bringing this to my attention.
Water is Life: Why I Stand with Standing Rock and their Allies October 17, 2016
The dangers imposed by the greed of big oil on the people who live along the Missouri river is astounding. When this proposed pipeline breaks, as the vast majority of pipelines do, over half of the drinking water in South Dakota will be affected. …It must be stopped. The people of the four bands of Cheyenne River stand with our sister nation in this fight as we are calling on all the Oceti Sakowin or Seven Council Fires to do so with our allies, both native and non native in opposing this pipeline. ~ Joye Braun (Cheyenne River)
A story that needs to change
Those of us who live on Turtle Island/North America are familiar with the same repeating story. It unfolds like this: A settler government (federal/provincial/state/ regional/municipal) and/or a corporation(s) wants to do something that will somehow violate Indigenous rights, previous agreements or historic treaties, along with sincere Nation-to-Nation respect. Rather than honour our own crucial legal principle of due process, which the average non-Indigenous individual has come to cherish and expect as a foundational human right, the said government and/or corporation goes ahead and begins the project anyway, even while the Indigenous Nation(s) in question file lawsuits and seek injunctions to stop the land aggression.
One of the tricks built into this still-colonialist story is to find all sorts of ways around meaningful public consultation so as to obtain the necessary quasi-legal permissions to begin. Another trick is to tie up the Indigenous Nation in the courts for years; by that time, the dam in question has been built, or the fish over-fished or the land in question already subjected to clear-cutting or destructive mining. That Indigenous peoples, at the best of times, face appalling levels of institutionalized racism in the Americas is the larger context in which all struggles on their lands take place.
Now enter a new era, the era of fracking to extract crude oil and snaking pipelines to transport it.
The current unfolding story of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST), who are Lakota, is the same story and yet different. Their territory encompasses over 9,000 km across North and South Dakota, U.S.A., combined. At the time of my writing this blog, the Standing Rock matter is still before the American courts, yet, the pipeline developers, Dakota Access LLC, have managed to obtain permissions and have begun construction of the pipeline anyway. The courts have not yet ruled on the Indigenous appeal for an injunction to halt construction.
In the months since the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe established their Spirit Camp – the Camp of the Sacred Stones (also called Sacred Stone Camp) in Cannon Ball, North Dakota – over 200 Indigenous communities (and counting) from Canada, the United States and South America have poured into the camp to stand up with Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Many other allies from across the planet have joined in the struggle, either in person or in spirit. This peaceful and inclusive stand is truly remarkable – and hopeful – in a world where divisiveness and violence are the usual responses to injustice. The people at Standing Rock refer to themselves as ‘water protectors’ rather than protestors. They are unarmed; their methods of resistance are peaceful and consist of prayer and the practical action of locking themselves down to equipment at construction sites to physically halt the pipeline’s installation. The state police have escalated tactics to stop them and there have been tense frightening moments of para-military intimidation, violence and waves of arrest.
On September 23, 2016, a U.N. envoy called upon the U.S. government to “undertake a thorough review of its compliance with international standards regarding the obligation to consult with indigenous peoples and obtain their free and informed consent.” Most recently, journalist Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, was arrested for being present on September 3, when she documented the abuses by Dakota Access LLC private security forces, who used pepper spray and guard dogs against protectors. For providing such news coverage she was charged with participating in a riot. Fortunately, a judge threw out the charges on October 17.
A small group of allies in Iowa, known as Mississippi Stand, are fighting a crucial October 31 completion deadline of that portion of the pipeline. They have made desperate pleas for more people to join them in similarly peaceful methods to delay pipeline construction every day; Standing Rock stands in solidarity with them.
Events continue to unfold every day and readers can learn more by following Standing Rock on social media. (See links I’ve listed under ‘becoming an ally – 2. spreading the word’.)
Why I care
I stand with Standing Rock to oppose this pipeline. I’m not a spokesperson for anyone; I’ve simply been following and supporting Standing Rock’s struggle on Facebook since becoming aware of it in late August.
I’m a Canadian, the child of a number of generations of non-Indigenous ‘settlers’ and a settler still; however, like an increasing number of settlers living on Turtle Island/North America, I acknowledge that I’m living on stolen land (call a spade a spade), that colonialism has to end, and that a new – respectful – way of moving forward with the Indigenous peoples of this land is required of us. Neither does it escape many of us – so many of us – that it’s sheer madness for humans to systematically destroy the biosphere – that very physical reality which keeps us alive – whether the destruction is for profit, jobs or the delusion that we can sustain an unsustainable way of life that it would take about nine Earths to provide if everyone else lived like us.
As a Modern Pagan, it makes little sense to say that I love the Earth and then either participate in or fail to oppose that which will destroy the natural world as we know it, including the homes of other species and the home of as-yet-unborn generations of humans. Like so many non-Indigenous others whose approach is ‘Earth-centred’ – Pagan or otherwise – my environmentalism is not in addition to my religious practice – it’s a daily part of it. There are seldom easy answers; yet it’s not rocket science either.
Dedicated Pagans have something important to offer in the increasingly critical showdowns between the Earth protectors and those who destroy for profit. We are insider-outsiders within our own culture. We work, in our own imperfect ways, unsung most of the time, to bring any possible drop of goodness into the world whenever and however the opportunity presents itself. It’s a compulsion-purpose – I imagine it’s similar to the way others focus on and build their résumés over the years. As Idries Shah is credited as saying, Gerald Gardner was driven by a power he didn’t fully understand – he and the many others who came before my generation, and certainly those of us engaged in and trusting the process now.
I suspect that part of that drive which has affected so many across these generations and across all traditions is, in part at least, a homing device within our Beings loudly sounding, that knows we are walking a precipice and need to come back from the edge. The Earth at Her core may easily shake us off, Her heartbeat may go on, but the biosphere which supports our life is in critical condition. Our hard-slogging predecessors – eccentricities and all – have made it possible for my generation to dare engage this possibility, so simple and yet so shocking to utter in a world where greed has won so many times in the past: ‘an it harm none’ can and must be the whole of the way we treat the Earth Herself – her creatures, our ecosystems, the entire biosphere we depend upon.
Water is life
Recently, it seems that I’m surrounded by water battles, pertaining either to the watershed that provides my own community’s drinking water or to other communities across Canada. There seems to be story after story about water and threats to drinking water. A number have involved leaking pipelines.
Two provinces over, the Husky Energy pipeline disaster in Saskatchewan this July spilled 250,000 litres of oil and solvent into the North Saskatchewan River, poisoning the drinking water source for thousands of Canadians, and causing a high death toll of wildlife along with other significant ecosystem damage. As of August, “the devastating impacts that the James Smith Cree Nation observed this week on wildlife, nearly 300 kilometres away from the source” of the spill, “are coming to light as the Calgary-based oil company dismissed allegations that it hired an industry-friendly consulting firm to assist with water testing in order to downplay the disaster.”iii And in early August, another leak in a Saskatchewan pipeline, this time The Crescent Point pipeline, spilled 630 barrels of oil and water on a farm northwest of Swift Current.
All of this is a grim reminder: it’s not if an oil pipeline will leak, but when.
We can’t live without water. It’s a basic fact of our fragile existence which connects us all. As the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have emphasized over and over again: ‘Water is Life’. They have asked the world to stand with them as allies in their epic struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built.
The black snake
According to their website sacredstonecamp.org, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allies refer to the Dakota Access Pipeline as ‘the black snake̓, because they are referencing an old Lakota prophecy that speaks of a black snake (zuzeca sape) crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation.
The Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) is proposed to run through four states to transport between 400,000 and 500,000 barrels of fracked crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken region, down through South Dakota and Iowa into Patoka, Illinois, a distance of over 1800 km. Because it cuts through a significant watershed, the proposed pipeline will have to cross rivers at several points, including the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. As earthday.org notes, both of these rivers “supply drinking water for millions of people. Their watershed reaches 31 states and two Canadian Provinces.”
The Missouri River crossing is located just upstream of the Standing Rock Reservation; the location of this pipeline crossing was originally planned near Bismarck, but that settler community protested, so at the eleventh hour the location was moved. After what seems to have been a murky process, the US Army Corps of Engineers granted the company its final permits and Energy Transfer Partners subsidiary, Dakota Access LLC, began construction, even though the matter is before the courts. The pipeline poses significant dangers to human health, the environment and sacred sites, as previous leaks in oil pipelines have taught us. Construction thus far has already desecrated sacred sites.
At the same time, there seems to be an awakening happening across Turtle Island/North America and indeed the world, akin to the XL Pipeline struggle, yet the NoDAPL wave is bigger and further-reaching, Clyde Bellecourt, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement, says he has never seen anything like the Standing Rock camps.vii People from all walks of life, all religions and cultures, are taking a stand with the Sioux of Standing Rock. As others have expressed on social media, there’s a feeling that a victory here is going to be the beginning of the turning of the tide. I’m reminded of the ninth wave. As Pagans and other non-Indigenous Earth-centred practitioners, we need to join forces with Standing Rock, to take action as allies in this epic struggle. The time is now.
Becoming an ally – specific actions
1. prayer – We’re being invited to pray in our own way according to our own traditions. Pagans are diverse, with diverse liturgies and rites. It’s my hope that fellow Pagans and other non-Indigenous Earth-centred practitioners will step up and make this vital cause a matter of ritual work – persistent ritual work – until the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies at the camps have stopped the pipeline for good. Certainly, the Lakota do not and would not appreciate nonIndigenous people mimicking their sacred ceremonies – those are not the actions of allies.
2. spreading the word – Standing Rock has asked the world to spread the word. You can follow and share developments through Facebook, Twitter and their ‘Camp of Sacred Stones’ official website. It’s absolutely crucial that the world keep its eyes on Standing Rock and keep telling the story as events unfold. We need to be witnesses and, collectively, a voiced conscience which holds accountable, and deters from the use of violence, the state of North Dakota and the paid private security personnel of Dakota Access LLC. The people of Standing Rock face real dangers every day: a militarized police force in riot gear pointing deadly weapons at them; physical assaults; mass arrests. Amy Goodman’s coverage aside, mainstream media have been conspicuously absent and independent media regularly arrested, and so it falls to us all to help tell this story.
Camp of the Sacred Stones official website: http://sacredstonecamp.org
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CampOfTheSacredStone/
See their website for their mailing address and phone number.
Mississippi Stand: https://www.facebook.com/MississippiStandCamp/?fref=ts
Democracy Now!: http://www.democracynow.org/topics/dakota_access
The vastness of the watershed at risk from the DAPL is clear on this map: “the massive catchment area for the Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas rivers, as seen in pink,” at www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3860062/The-veins-America-Stunningmap-shows-river-basin-US.html 3.
3 “Everyone is Welcome” at the camp – You can sign up to volunteer on the Take Action page of sacredstonecamp.org; anyone may “join the Spirit Camp…on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to pray, share food and stories and connect with the land and water that is being threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline.” In reality, the numbers of people have grown so much that there are now four physical camps on the land. It’s worthwhile to read over the FAQs page, so that you understand the do’s and don’t’s while guests on Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Lakota) land, as well as what to bring to be as self-sufficient as possible, what facilities they have at camp and what volunteer daily tasks are needed to keep a camp running. They are very clear that there are already non-Indigenous allies involved and all are welcome. They also need media volunteers onsite to report what is happening on the ground. 5-7 FAQs page: http://sacredstonecamp.org/faq/ Take Action page: http://sacredstonecamp.org/take-action/
4. Donations – There are two main donation needs. One is to donate to their legal defence fund. A significant number of protectors have been arrested and will face charges. I saw a video on their facebook page about a grandmother who had been charged under terrorism legislation. How widespread these types of charges are I don’t know, but clearly money is needed to fight all charges. Other donations are needed to maintain the Camp of the Sacred Stones (Sacred Stone Camp); they need money for food, firewood, transportation and support of people on the front lines. Critical now are funds to winterize the camp as the North Dakota winter is deadly cold. The complementary Red Warrior Camp guides the non-violent direct action resistance. You can donate to the Red Warrior Camp separately. Both of these main camps also have their own Amazon wish lists so that supplies can be purchased and sent directly to them.
Legal Defense Fund: https://fundrazr.com/d19fAf?ref=sh_25rPQa
Camp’s general funds: https://www.gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp
Sacred Stone Camp Amazon supplies wishlist: https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/ref=sr_1_1_acs_wl_1? cid=A2U35DV1L7IRMA&ie=UTF8&qid=1472511370&sr=8-1-acs
Red Warrior Camp: www.gofundme.com/redwarriorcamp
Red Warrior Camp Amazon wish list: https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/ref=sr_1_1_acs_wl_1? cid=A1ZID74L1YUB15&ie=UTF8&qid=1472512327&sr=8-1-acs
In case those really long Amazon links fail, you can find both links here: https://nodaplsolidarity.org/support-the-camps/
Medic & Healer Council Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MedicHealerCouncil/posts/993958997396590 6-7 i
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/crescent-point-energy-pipeline-leak-field-1.3709207 v http://sacredstonecamp.org/faq/
www.earthday.org/2016/08/29/fight-dakota-access-pipeline/ vii www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37249617
Kimberley Williams is a Canadian Modern Pagan. She enjoys researching 19th and 20th century cultural strands relevant to Modern British Witchcraft. She plays the bodhran adequately but intuitively.
Thank you for this. I am sharing it among my community. Many of us have gone out already. Our clan father Woableza visited there while his strength lasted. We have been holding circle for them and all water protection. We can make a difference!
Pleased to see your support for Standing Rock…
Thank you for posting this in-depth essay. Prayers and action…
Blog Author’s Update as of Nov 4, 2016: Thank you for the kind comments. I’m no journalist; essays are not my forte! It’s also great to read of your engagement in solidarity, but then, I knew people would be awesome.
It seems like a lifetime now since I wrote this blog, because so much has happened in the meantime, including the brutal repression of the water protectors and destruction of their front-line camp on Oct 27, which no doubt many have heard about. The water protectors had put up this new camp only days before, on Unceded Territory lying directly in the path of the DAPL construction. I was online for about seven hours as one of thousands of witnesses from around the world on Thursday, Oct 27; it was not planned, I just happened to be on facebook when live feed came to my attention, and I couldn’t leave my computer. Frankly, a sickening, heart-breaking day.
And only yesterday, the pipeline crew desecrated graves on a ridge overlooking the water, while many peaceful water protectors tried to reach that side of the river to pray and were again brutalized. Earlier, law enforcers had destroyed a makeshift bridge intended for Elders to reach the banks and pray, and that is why the water protectors later swam across to pray instead, where they were attacked. It needs to be stated that peaceful resistance means continuing to resist non-violently. Law enforcement chose to use significant violence to stop them. I’m not doing justice to what Standing Rock is enduring or what a struggle it is, to varying degrees, for people across the land to enact their civil rights to assemble and protest.
Today, there was an Inter-religious gathering at Standing Rock in which clergy denounced the infamous centuries’ old ‘doctrine of discovery’, an event Prof. Myron Dewey has called a healing moment; he’s an Indigenous ally at Standing Rock and his media coverage on facebook is invaluable, along with a number of others. Across the continent, many clergy joined demonstrations in solidarity with Standing Rock and were arrested at lockdowns in banks and, as far as I know, at the ND State Capitol. I don’t have clear or full details on the breadth of today, because so much is happening all the time and I can’t keep up. Increasingly, one of the solidarity actions is to move money out of the banks supporting the pipeline and into credit unions or non-participating banks. I see that the municipality of Seattle just did this. So please add that to my offered list of actions and also, whatever other recommended actions you encounter. In retrospect, my list was basic.
Reading over what I had written in this blog post, I want to clarify what I meant when I said I thought the story at Standing Rock was the same story yet different. The tactics of colonialist oppression are nothing new. What is new is that somehow there’s a ‘crack of light’ getting in – and a new movement happening in response to the oppression – for which I credit the people of Standing Rock and their allies on the ground, as well as the resonance with so many across the planet. That’s the best I can do at articulating this to myself and I hope you have sensed this too!
Thanks Kimberley. It’s a great piece. I’m part of a movement called The Warrior’s Call – Pagans United Against Fracking. We too support Standing Rock and have donated to them. We are a world wide movement and number many OBOD members among those who have responded to the call. You are most probably aware of us but if not we are on Facebook and can be found at http://www.warriorscall.org