I am alarmed and sickened by what I see happening to the water protectors at Standing Rock Camp in North Dakota. Native American people from many separate nations have come together to stand up against the laying of a large oil pipeline under the Missouri River. The crossing point is just outside their current Dakota Sioux land, but the river is the water source for millions of people, including people on Sioux land and other lands to the south. They are also protecting land which to them is held sacred because the centuries old burial sites of their ancestors are located on that land. The land given to the Sioux tribe in treaties has been cut away and taken back over and over again in the past hundred and fifty years.
The water protectors are peaceful and unarmed. The forces from North Dakota law enforcement do violence to them by various means including: deployment of water cannons when the temperatures there are in the lower twenties, launching concussion grenades, shooting them with rubber bullets, and spraying them with pepper spray at close range. Many have been arrested. Many others have been injured and taken from the area for medical attention. It is interesting to note that the pipeline route was initially farther to the east, but was rerouted because it was too close to the water systems of larger cities.
The media is not covering the story truthfully and several journalists who have gone in to report and film the happenings have been tased, shot with rubber bullets and then arrested and taken from the area. When the free press is muzzled we are in trouble. When peaceful assembly is beaten back with violence, we are in trouble (the pictures of the protectors being sprayed with water from the cannons look eerily similar to the protesters in the south being sprayed with fire hoses in the sixties.) The First Amendment gives us the right to stand up and peacefully protest that which we see as dangerous to our welfare or the welfare of our country. These native people are doing that.
On December 4th several thousand military veterans will arrive in Standing Rock Camp to aid in the protest. They will have protective gear for themselves, their eyes, their ears, their bodies, but they too will be unarmed. They are standing in support of both the rights of the native people and, more importantly, in protection of the earth's water systems and aquifers.
This last section of a poem, written by W.H. Auden in 1939, speaks to what I feel in my heart about not only this situation in North Dakota, but also in the country as a whole at this time.
"Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame."
--W.H. Auden, September 1, 1939