Why Are We Standing With Standing Rock?

An editorial by The Rev. John Floberg.

In 2006 the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council went on record in opposition to any pipeline or oil extraction development that would effect them directly.  They have never changed their minds.  It is a matter of public record.  It is the fact.  There were no number of meetings that were called for those facts to be shared that was going to change their stand.  They saw the negative effects of the oil boom in western North Dakota.  We remember them don’t we?  Human Trafficking, increased FBI presence due to drug trafficking and lawlessness, high rent prices and fixed income elderly needing to move from their communities, oil spills, brine spills, truck accidents.  No amount of money was worth that cost to Standing Rock.

This, and every pipeline is human made.  With the best technology at hand today it is still made in a finite and fallible world.  The pipeline route considered going north of Bismarck but was turned south because of the stated risk to the Bismarck water supply if it should fail.  It is the same technology, the same pipeline materials and the same oil that will flow and pose risk to Lake Oahe and all down stream interests.  It is just that simple.  It is a risk that does not have to be taken.

The land that it crosses is sacred.  Human history with five Indigenous Nations have hallowed this peace of land with life.  There are graves on this land.  There are prayer circles on this land.  If the pipeline leaks it is this land that will be torn up to clean up the mess.  Some say that there is already a pipeline there and this is simply following the same path.  That is true enough.  So there is already risk to this land.

Dates and history are important to gaining a more comprehensive understanding that leads away from preconceived notions.  The gas pipeline was put into the ground prior to 1970.  This is the beginning of a water shed decade for the Standing Rock Nation and other Indigenous Nations.  Prior to 1970 most would have considered Indian people as “Wards of the State.”  The Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 designated each Indian person as a Ward of the Federal Government and that their nations were no longer considered to be such.  Remember that date, 1871, because it is a linch pin to dismantling the arguments against Standing With Standing Rock.

A little over one hundred years passed since the Congressional action when stand offs Alcatraz Island at Wounded Knee took place.  This is a pivotal time of gaining recognition and standing – not as individual “wards of the state” but as a Nation with sovereign rights.  The decade following proves this out with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 that recognized the right of the Tribal Nation to govern the affairs of its children.  In 1980 the Supreme Court determined that Congress had illegally taken the Black Hills (i.e., went against the established treaties of 1851 and 1868), but awarded money as compensation rather than the rerun of the land.  In a paper on Tribal Sovereignty that was first presented in December, 2003 to the Harvard Law School, its authors, Joseph P. Kalt and Joseph William Singer, write: “The last three decades have witnessed a remarkable resurgence of the American Indian nations in the United States. The foundation of this resurgence has been the exercise of self-government – sovereignty – by the more than 560 federally-recognized tribes in the U.S.”

An online document concerning this standing up again of Indigenous Nations sites the following: “On Thanksgiving Day 1970, Wampanoag Indians, who had taken part at the first Thanksgiving 350 years earlier, held a National Day of Mourning at Plymouth, Massachusetts. A tribal representative declared, “We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees.” Meanwhile, another group of Native Americans established a settlement at Mount Rushmore to demonstrate Indian claims to the Black Hills.” (http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3348, November 23, 2016)

I don’t want to belabor the point which is simply put – when the Gas Pipeline went through this sacred area of land the Standing Rock Sioux Nation did not have the political standing to require consultation and respect for its own Tribal Council Resolutions.

That returns me to the “bookmark” that I place in this article.  Remember 1871.  It is easy for me to remember that decade.  It isn’t long ago history that needs to somehow be forgotten or moved on from – not for me, not for Indian people – and I dare say not for most of us living in this area of the world.  I want to introduce you to some names, Martha & John, Margit & Herbrand, Ragna & Herbrand, Anna & Bernt.  Those people lives changed everything.  They emigrated from Norway in that decade of the 1800s.  They are my great grandparents.  I know their parent’s names too and the ones before them.  But lets just stick with my great grandparents.  I am in my 50s.  1880, when I think only about my family and its history, is not all that long ago.  Their decisions, what they did for a living, how they raised their children all have a direct impact on my own life.  If you don’t believe that, then begin to ask about the stories that define your own family.

Again the point is simple.  Treaty Obligations are the Supreme Law of the Land.  A treaty is made between at least two distinct political groups.  The United States recognized Tribal Nations, by definition, when it established Treaties with them.  In the case of the 1851 and 1868 Treaties and the subsequent unilateral breaking of the Treaties by the United States, they happened in the lifetime of my great grandparents.  Not All That Long Ago is it?  I just returned after nearly a month in Norway this summer.  I slept in beds that have been used for generations of my relatives.  I saw sites that my young great grandfather would have seen when he walked out of the house each morning.  Why do I belabor this point?  Because I stand as a witness that we have not brought the experience of Indigenous people into our world.  They are a “them” – we don’t think of them as families with grandchildren and great grandparents.  It is easier to dismiss their claims when their history is distant and long ago.  It is easy to distance ourselves from the concern they have have for their great grandchildren who are yet to be born if they aren’t as fully human as us.

That is why we Stand With Standing Rock.  We are standing With them because they have the ability to Stand for themselves and we are seeing them.  We are hearing them.

If you have read this article to this point, I wish to thank you for your attention.

The Rev’d John Floberg
Standing With Standing Rock Since July 1, 1991