The struggle at Standing Rock

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard was a child when the floods came. "Where the Cannonball River joins the Missouri River … there used to be a whirlpool that created large, spherical sandstone formations," Allard wrote in Yes! Magazine on Sept. 3. "The river’s true name is Inyan Wakangapi Wakpa, River that Makes the Sacred Stones. … The stones are not created anymore, ever since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the mouth of the Cannonball River and flooded the area in the late 1950s."

In all, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation lost nearly 56,000 acres of sacred agricultural land when the Oahe Dam was constructed near Pierre, S.D. President Kennedy, in remarks delivered at a dedication ceremony on Aug. 17, 1962, never mentioned the land that was taken from Native Americans against their will – another broken promise. He talked only of progress and of power.

Eight months ago, on April 1, Allard and a handful of others began a new fight against the latest incarnation of progress and power harnessed at the expense of Native Americans: the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Once completed, the 1,170-mile, $3.8 billion project, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, will connect the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana to Patoka, Ill. The project is nearly finished, all except for the segment that is to run beneath Lake Oahe, the product of that celebrated dam. Originally, the pipeline wasn’t supposed to travel under Lake Oahe but would have crossed the Missouri near Bismarck, N.D., instead. But officials who feared that the capital city’s water supply would be compromised balked. And so land where a whirlpool once created sacred stones was targeted yet again.

Thousands of "water protectors" have traveled to Allard’s Sacred Stone Camp for peaceful protests since April, and they will be joined by 2,000 military veterans on Sunday, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat who serves as a major in the National Guard. The resistance is not always passive.

Confrontations between protesters and law enforcement have become increasingly violent. Last month, a 21-year-old woman from New York City suffered serious injuries to her left arm, possibly from a police concussion grenade, and authorities have used rubber bullets, water cannons and dogs to control crowds.

America’s past, from the Boston Massacre to Kent State, is full of cautionary tales about how quickly protests can become tragedies. We hope those who are fighting to protect water and sacred lands, as well as those tasked with keeping the peace, know their history, because the risk of violence will only increase come Monday.

That is when an evacuation order for the Sacred Stone Camp issued by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple goes into effect. In a letter to President Obama on Wednesday, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico warned that, "forcible removal of people from federal land where they have been allowed to camp, along with food blockades, would be serious mistakes."

He’s correct, and the president needs to take the lead on de-escalation, and he needs to do it now. While resolution of the fundamental battle between the Standing Rock protesters and the pipeline owners may be out of reach for the moment, Obama must find a way to ease tension before blood is shed.

A good place to start is acknowledgement of the U.S. government’s history of broken promises to Native Americans and the systemic marginalization of tribal people throughout this nation’s history, and that enough is enough. He could punctuate the point by mentioning that the poverty rate at Standing Rock Reservation is 43 percent, more than triple the national average.

He could say native people have been victimized too much for too long. And he would be right.

Concord Monitor