Power and Politics in American Indian History: Sacred Water, Standing Rock I

CJ Trowbridge


Power and Politics in American Indian History

Response: Sacred Water, Standing Rock I

It was very compelling to hear the story of the black snake and the end of the world; the argument that the people need to stand up to the black snake or the world will end. I can see the connection to the oil pipeline which will dramatically accelerate the climate apocalypse by adding tens of millions of cars worth of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, to say nothing of the direct threat to the tribe because of inevitable spills which poison their water.

It was remarkable to see the largest gathering in a century where native people and their allies from all over came together to rise up and oppose the pipeline. Hundreds of protestors ran five hundred miles from the pipeline construction site to the army corps of engineers’ office and demanded they refuse the final construction permits to complete the pipeline.

As we learned from Estes in the first chapter of the text, the pipeline was originally planned to cross the river further upstream, but the white people of Bismarck complained about the danger to their water, so it was moved just downstream of Bismarck across the reservation’s land so that it would only endanger the tribe and not the white people. The new path also demolishes 380 sacred sites. This was considered fine by the pipeline planners.

Native people have suffered unimaginable injustices from the beginnings of the white ethnostate, straight through to today. It’s hard to hear the stories of the trauma inflicted on young people today, plus their parents, and grandparents all the way back to the beginning of the Native Holocaust.

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know that there is an answer. It has to get better.

One of the biggest challenges in opposing the white imperial ethnostate is envisioning what to replace it with. It is important that we not only oppose evil but also actively model good. I always say this in the queer movement; we can’t just oppose the Nazis who are trying to murder us, we have to also be us at some point. We can’t exist only in opposition; we also need to create space to act out what we are.

One way this is very challenging is with dismantling hegemonic patriarchy and dominator mentalities. It can be difficult to create space for healthy mutualist alternatives and exist together outside hegemonic patriarchy.

In this regard, time and time again, native people demonstrate excellent examples of what the possibilities are for existing outside the evil system we are working to dismantle. It was so inspiring to see a matriarchal organization where people are actually giving aid to those who are trespassing on their land with the explicit intent to harm them. What better role model could we ask for than the eons of traditions around what Estes called “tribal consciousness” or the long-term result of tens of thousands of years of established norms and expectations which make clear to everyone what is their role in the community. In this post-police moment where we are trying to build similar community-policing systems, what better example is there than the native people we are learning about in this class?