Largely out of the headlines, the ongoing protest on Standing Rock is shining a bright light on how the big-moneyed interests with political clout steamroll the disadvantaged in order to get what they need.
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But in a rare David-vs-Goliath standoff, the Sioux tribespeople of Standing Rock Reservation are learning that they are not powerless. Their refusal to roll over and allow an oil pipleline to be built on their lands is growing into one of the largest resistance movements in recent years, drawing supporters from all over the country, and forcing the discussion of “Where do we draw the line?” in regards to our pursuit of depleting natural resources.
Activist Mark Morey joins the podcast this week to provide context on this unfolding conflict:
I think we are in an era of self-organizing emergent social revolutions. I do not know what to call them. Even the Bernie Sanders campaign had qualities that unexpectedly, hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands, 50,000 people coming together for a candidate during a Democratic primary was just unheard of. Crashing all records.
This is another one of those in my mind. This particular one was started by teenagers and youth, believe it or not. When you do the research they stood up and they were the first ones to put their campsite down in that very location in Cannonball because they had this very deep and real sense of their future being threatened. I saw one of the teenagers, they went all the way to D.C. to speak with Bernie Sanders. Bill McKibben was there yesterday or the day before.
So there she is. She’s 16 years old and she says, I grew up on a reservation in the middle of this great place where my ancestors had been living here forever. There’s a kind of authority that comes from that lineage. They say clean water is our heritage and our right, and what we’re standing for the way we do things. She starts to cry thinking the oil corporations don’t care about her tribe’s children. The pipeline was going to run north of Bismarck, North Dakota, up there in the watershed, but they deemed it too dangerous for those residents so they ran it down by the reservation
That’s the pattern. Social justice and environmental damage are often correlated because they are at the margins and there’s no media there. You can ship uranium to the Navajo or whatever. What’s unusual is, standing up against literally the machine, the bulldozer, or standing up against the billion dollar oil energy companies. And these are the poorest people in our country. They are third-world poverty, 70% poverty people with their causes of death being things like alcoholism, and suicide, and diabetes — the kinds of things we see as the leading cause of death from depression and oppression. To see them stand up I think ultimately it has this mythic quality to it. The ultimate weakest, smallest, poorest person with the greatest spirit and most righteous stance: that you cannot drink oil. Once this thing gets routed, the 16 million people living downstream will all be affected.
It magnetized not just individuals to come help them, but all of the tribes in the U.S. sent representatives there. There are over 250 representative tribes there, which has never happened before in the history of the U.S. They’re putting up flags — there’s this long corridor of nations, sovereign nations, native peoples’ flags. There’s this incredible sense of an indigenous resurrection and power to the message they have for the modern world. Of course it’s in the context of climate change, all the stuff that is coming out around the end of nature as we know it. Perhaps these people have something to offer us. Also, non-native people are going there and offering resources and help around the country. There is something like 7,000 people camping there now.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Mark Morey (41m:55s).