It’s more than the magical appearance of the well-lit tipi encampment shining in the darkness on the National Mall that lifts the spirit today – but that would be enough to generate excitement. It is beautiful.
My daylight experience of the March on the White House – (yes, yet another march on the White House) was equally electric.
With dignity and courage, thousands of tribal members representing hundreds of native populations across the land, along with non-tribal friends and environmental activists, processed through the streets and rallied in support of the water protectors of Standing Rock. The Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes have filed new motions in DC District Court (1:16-cv-01534-JEB) in hopes that they will be able to reclaim a victory snatched away in what is a stunning reminder of the ugly history of hypocrisy, fraud, deceit and gonocide that exists between Native Nations and the US Government.
Like the Women’s March on January 21st, the tribal population featured its pop heroes as well as movement leaders in the rally. Black Eyed Peas member and solo rap artist Taboo (born Jaime Luis Gómez) performed “I’ve Got a Feeling” at the rally following the March 10th March in DC as the snow began to fall. Taboo is Mexican-American and a Shoshone tribal member. I don’t pretend a lack of bias; I’m with the tribes on this one. But my professional “press” demeanor may have suffered in the moment. The song is one of my all time favorites, so I got my “OMG” on, along with hundreds of others who remained in the park as the breeze picked up and temperatures and snowflakes fell.
Is this a re-enactment of past shames?
Perhaps. The Standing Rock protest had to be re-activated after its initial success proved to be short-lived. That initial victory came when the Army Corps of Engineers formally rejected a permit requested by Dakota Access LLC (aka original party in interest – Energy Transfer Partners) to build the pipeline. It is a shame that there was a fight to begin with, and a greater shame that the President feels comfortable in renewing the battle and actively ignoring both the agreements of his predecessor and the centuries-old treaty he is sworn to uphold.
I am not placing all the blame at the foot of the Trump administration. Even that first victory to stop the pipeline did not come easily, despite the Obama’s public stand on protecting the environment. The tribe prevailed only after months of activism, fighting pitched legal battles lead by an EarthJustice team of attorneys and backed by a social network outreach to generate public outcry. Apparently, formal recognition of climate change and a basic human right to breathable air and clean water suffers when economic interests pit themselves against those ideals. In this case, many government officials were convinced that the pipeline would be a boon to the economy and were willing to turn a blind eye to the project’s serious flaws. Leaking oil into the water seems like a bad idea to me, but what the heck, jobs are at stake, right? Despite that conflict, the tribe persisted, and eventually, the press and public paid attention. Photo journalist depiction of police misconduct may have helped to foster the shift. In any case, the firestorm around the protests eventually produced a public opinion backlash that resulted in a reversal for project support. Six weeks later, we’re back to square one, pitting the promise of improving short term livelihood against the long term loss of anywhere to actually live.
The Trump administration has vowed to ensure that the pipeline will be built, and has backtracked on all of the promises made to tribal members to protect the important clean water resources that would be destroyed by the proposed Dakota Oil Pipeline. Immediately upon taking the oath of office, Trump disavowed the pledge to honor the sacred tribal waters, protect the environment and stop the pipeline’s progress through our publicly owned lands.
It is the height of irony that the attorneys on the Trump Administration’s legal team come from the “environmental defense” section of the Department of Justice. That’s in name only; I don’t think there’s a defense mechanism for the environment in the current administration. Trump has appointed a cabinet head to lead environmental protection who questions the science of global warming and has already established his rock-solid determination to fire any government official who disputes his conclusions, questions his reasoning or alerts the press or public of the real agenda of the revamped agency (the anti-EPA). It seems unlikely that the Native Nations will find allies within this administration. The courage of the judiciary seems the only hope for a new act of saving grace in this matter, and courage may be in short supply in DC, where politics reigns supreme and courage rests with the example of the Native Nations and the personal sacrifice of tribal members to support this ongoing advocacy effort.