Standing Rock and the Path Forward

The Oceti Sakowa Camp

The Oceti Sakowa Camp

The protest at Standing Rock was born from the need to protect water and the environment from the Dakota Access Pipeline, which had been routed away from areas populated predominately by white people and through Native American land. While the protesters, or water protectorsare fighting for water, there are much larger issues at playthe most obvious being the treatment of natives and the disrespect of reservation land.

Both the U.S. government and White America have continuously broken treaties made with Native Americans. This is the breaking point. “Enough is enough,"  tribal chairman Dave Archambault II told ABC. "Respect our lands, respect our people, respect our rights.”

But the people taking a stand are also fighting for something that will affect all of us, whether we think we care about clean water or not. 

The protest has also taken on new meanings and dimensions. The militarization of police and the brutality being faced at the peaceful protest at Standing Rock have sparked outrage. Unarmed protesters are, to name only a few things, getting sprayed with fire houses in freezing temps, hit with flash bang grenades, and shot with rubber bullets. (Also, there’s the whole issue of our country’s dependence on oil, which I won’t get into here.)

Note that police are concealing their badge numbers and faces as to avoid accountability for their actions.

Note that police are concealing their badge numbers and faces as to avoid accountability for their actions.

As Standing Rock has grown to become a symbol—for our policing problem and the spirit of defiance that has encapsulated the nation in recent years—it has also become a teaching moment for the left. This fight brought a major shift within the tribes, and it’s one we as an entire country can learn from. The tribes have not come together like this since the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. The cause is reunifying indigenous people who have not worked together like this pretty much ever in recorded history. (It is also important to note that this isn’t the first fight nor will it be the last, but it is the biggest so far, and will have important implications in the fight going forward.)

This wasn’t the original plan for the DAPL protest. It began with environmentalists standing up, as they do with all pipelines, with members of the Sioux who were defending their land. It drew national attention largely because of the election. That attention in turn inspired indigenous people and allies from all over the country to stand with Standing Rock. 

Sacred fires are being rekindled along with sacred bonds. Until now, there hasn’t been a singular event that inspired such indigenous unity and an openness to work together. It’s because these issues aren’t unique to Standing Rock, all indigenous people face them and have faced them for centuries. This just opened the door for a collective to come together. While there are disagreements and differing opinions, the tribes are stronger together as a cohesive front. As they collaborate through conflict, they are laying the foundation and establishing a unity for the battles to come. 

Arvol Looking Horse leads a group of Lakota riders into the Oceti Sakowa Camp for a sacred ceremony.

Arvol Looking Horse leads a group of Lakota riders into the Oceti Sakowa Camp for a sacred ceremony.

Navajo and Hopi youth arrive after running from Flagstaff in a spiritual show of support. Running is a sacred tradition in Navajo culture.

Navajo and Hopi youth arrive after running from Flagstaff in a spiritual show of support. Running is a sacred tradition in Navajo culture.

This is a battle being fought with love, prayer, ancient tradition, and ceremony. It’s founded in respect, unity, and forgiveness. The courthouse was saged and the police forgiven for brutalities I can’t fathom—not for the benefit of the authority, but instead so those harmed could move forward without the burden of hate and resentment. Because "forgiveness is medicine.” Because from this healed place action is taken. 

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As Lyla June Johnston, who organized the Forgiveness March in Mandan, ND, said at the saging of the courthouse: 

“I for one am here to say to the police men and women that we love you and we wish for you the best life and we will not hold these things against you but that we want you to be free from guilt just like we want our brothers and sisters who are held in this building right now to be free. We want everyone to be free of the burdens of shame and guilt that we carry...

“We have sisters who were shot in the face with bean bag bullets—the welts are hard to look at—and we also ask creator to help us forgive because some of the things we witnessed like a police officer grabbing a girl who had a cast on her arm twisting it as hard as he could—a young woman who’s arm was broken because the police had hit her with a baton and broke her arm a week prior...

“Those things are very hard to watch. Your blood starts to boil. You want justice. You want these people punished for what they did to your sister. But that punitive justice model is the root of the issue today…and we know that even though the last thing we feel like doing is forgiving today we know we must be brave, step up and do this anyway because this is medicine that will heal the world. The elders say that this is the strongest medicine in the world is forgiveness...

"We're here to show you what love looks like. It looks like this. It looks like praying. We have been praying for months and they call us rioters."

Supporters form a loving circle around the police station

Supporters form a loving circle around the police station

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While this protest has drawn the outrage of many groups, veterans are turning out to defend the very freedoms the fought for overseas at home. Upwards of 2,000 are headed there right now to stand up against injustice. ”Knowing that men and women died serving this county and I see my fellow Americans being treated the way they are," one told me, "I have a responsibility to this country to withhold my oath until freedoms are restored.”

Veteran's Day March at Standing Rock

Veteran's Day March at Standing Rock

The activism at Standing Rock is a powerful blueprint for the path forward for our nation, which feels more divided and brutalized than ever. I’m mad—I’m mad at the left, I’m really mad at the right—and I definitely always think that I am correct. All of us feel this way, and honestly, we’re all a little wrong. That’s why we need unity despite our differences, a singular purpose, and most importantly to practice love, tolerance, and restraint. Collaborative effort has always proven to create greater change, build better ideas, and ultimately lay the foundation for a more diverse and respectful world.

We’re entering a time where there are many battles to fight. We need to focus. All of the issues emerging at Standing Rock are the same issues currently threatening our entire nation: We are facing a government that will—to borrow from the tribal chairman—disrespect our land, our people, and our rights.

And enough is enough.

We’re laying our foundation by marching together and getting fed up.  Let’s build this unity—our differences will ultimately make us stronger. Let’s get together and heal and go out and fight for what’s right, despite our differences.

"To move without surrender."

"To move without surrender."

It’s important to note that I am white. Our role as white people in this battle and in many to come is simply to listen and to amplify, to use our privilege to access places others can’t go, and to support the fights for equality and justice happening all around us however we can. 

On Saturday, a group of protesters entered DAPL land and formed a circle. In the center were native elders, then people of color, then white allies buffering the inner circle from the police. The speakers were both Native Americans and leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. White privilege enables some of us to more safely take a stand and gives us a responsibility to help where we are needed—and only where we are needed. 

Standing up from a place of fear and rage is not constructive—it needs to be channeled into love. Arguing amongst each other isn’t entirely productive—we need to try listening. Our collective power is greater than any individual idea.  Let’s keep our heads up through the battles and to ultimately win the war. 


Molly Adams is a Los Angeles resident who takes pictures. She will live in Los Angeles forever but might visit your city sometime soon. If you're looking for her she is often that kid with the camera at the party. You can also find her on Instagram if you want.

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