It has taken the better part of seven months and the arrest (or threat of arrest) of a few highly visible activists, but we are finally starting to see mainstream coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And the media attention is a good start. It is generating questions and (tentatively) calling for accountability from huge commercial oil companies like Energy Transfer Partners and from governing entities like the Environmental Protection Agency.
The conversation has begun, and it’s going to be a long one. And the language we use to have the conversation will do a lot to shape it. The vast majority of articles that you read about this subject will describe those who have come to Standing Rock as “protesters” [See “Taking a Stand: WNC Local Support Protesters at Standing Rock,” Oct. 12, Xpress]. Close your eyes and imagine a “protest.” Heavily armed police, tear gas, anger, fear and discord might come to mind. Especially in light of the fact that the majority of images that the mainstream media has attached to Standing Rock has depicted just those things. It is irresponsible reporting and does not remotely address the scope and significance of what is unfolding there.
Standing Rock Reservation and the privately owned land directly adjacent is hosting the largest gathering of indigenous people in the history of our nation. More than 300 tribes from around the world have sent emissaries of peace and solidarity with one purpose in mind — protection. Protection of their sacred and ancestral burial grounds, some of which have already been destroyed by pipeline-digging equipment.
But more specifically, they are there to protect our water. Not their water, our water. The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the largest in the world, spanning eight states. It directly supplies 2.3 million people (82 percent of the High Plains population) and supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle that is produced in the United States. The Missouri River is the fourth longest in the world. It is bordered by 10 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Its watershed encompasses an area one-sixth the size of the U.S. and supplies 18 million people with water. The Dakota Access Pipeline proposes to cross the Ogallala Aquifer once and the Missouri River twice.
In the last five years alone, we can trace millions of gallons of spilled crude and tar sands back to ruptured pipelines. We have seen three major incidents in the last three months. Water tables have been poisoned, animals and their habitats destroyed and entire neighborhoods evacuated. The argument that piping oil and its byproducts through the ground is safer than other modes of transport (which is what oil companies would have us believe) is utterly indefensible. And piping it across two of the largest and most heavily relied upon water sources in North America to export out of the U.S. is negligent beyond comprehension. Our water protectors in Standing Rock know that. They see the rivers and lakes as the circulatory system for mother earth. Her lifeblood. And they are willing to lay down their weapons, their tribal differences and their lives to protect it, now and for generations to come.
No, they are not protesters. To protest presupposes that there is an argument to be won. There is no argument. They are not there to fight. They are there to join hands in song and prayer. To work alongside one another in achieving a goal that should be common to every American man, woman and child.
There is an old Lakota prophecy that tells of a black snake that emerges from the ground and brings with it great sickness and devastation. For generations, they wondered at its meaning. They see it now, and they need our help to fulfill a second prophecy — The Seventh Generation Prophecy — that has identified the youth of today from all the nations across the globe as the bringers of an uprising that ushers in sustainable ways of living in balance and harmony with the world around us. Support our water protectors. Name them for what they are. And then become one. Now is the time, and we are the people. Water is life.
— Erin Hardy