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Reflections on the Struggle at Standing Rock

November 22, 2016

It has been 2 days since I got back from our trip on the invitation by the Lakota nation to be part of the fight for justice at Standing Rock.

There are  things that I have been thinking about and wanted to share here.


First, the fight at Standing Rock is first and foremost about White Supremacy and Settler Colonialism. Settler Colonialism, according to Indigenous scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, is defined as such:

“Settler colonialism has best been defined as more of an imposed structure than an historical event. This structure is characterized by relationships of domination and subjugation that become woven throughout the fabric of society, and even becomes disguised as paternalistic benevolence. The objective of settler colonialism is always the acquisition of indigenous territories and resources, which means the native must be eliminated. This can be accomplished in overt ways including biological warfare and military domination but also in more subtle ways; for example, through national policies of assimilation.”screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-42-54-pm

What is happening at Standing Rock is also about White Supremacy. However, White Supremacy should not be confused with those who identify as White Supremacists. Instead, we must see White Supremacy as a system of oppression that has always been part of the United States. Chicana scholar and activist Elizabeth Martinez defines White Supremacy as such:

“White Supremacy is an historically based, institutional perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and the European Continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.”

The Dakota Access Oil Pipeline is a more current example of White Supremacy and Settler Colonialism. The immediate goal is to stop the pipeline from being constructed, but the longterm goal is to end Settler Colonialism and White Supremacy.

Second, while the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline should be seen as a Climate Justice issue, it should be framed primarily as an Environmental Justice issue. The movement for Environmental Justice grew out of the struggles that communities of color have engaged in and are significantly different that those of white environmentalists. The principles of environmental justice should be read by everyone. There are several that apply to the Standing Rock struggle, particularly the following: 

  • Environmental Justice must recognize a special legal and natural relationship of Native Peoples to the U.S. government through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination.                                                      
  • Environmental Justice opposes the destructive operations of multi-national corporations.
  • Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.

Organizations, particularly Environmental groups that do not practice environmental justice and have not made the struggle at Standing Rock part of their work should not get our support.screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-12-31-24-pm

Third, the repression at Standing Rock is nothing short of a military occupation. The pipeline company, the private security forces they are using, police and the national guard are all being used to monitor, police, attack, arrest and make sure that the pipeline construction will be happen. We saw helicopters constantly monitoring the activities of the water protectors on the ground. In addition, those involved in surveillance are hacking people’s handheld phone and computers, in order to disrupt their signal and attempt to get the word out about what is taking place there.

Then there is the militarized repression we saw within the past few days, where water cannons were being used on people, along with rubber bullets. When people are arrested their legal rights are being violated and sometimes people are being held in dog cages. We also just learned from a report by Jeremy Scahill, that the company being contracted out for doing intelligence gathering is TigerSwan Security, which has ties to Blackwater. 

I have spent lots of time in Guatemala, El Salvador and Chiapas and so much of what was happening at Standing Rock felt just like the militarized repression taking place in those countries.dsc00165

Fourth, the resiliency and courage of the water protectors and all the other people their to support them is amazing. The people I talked to kept saying over and over again how the support and sense of community was simply astounding. There are the water protectors putting their bodies on the line, then there is the legal support people, those doing media, people who are cooking everyday, a health clinic, those hosting cultural and ceremonial activities, the volunteer station, the donations people and those that are providing security for the encampment. What is happening at Standing Rock is a highly organized and welcoming space that were all can learn from in terms of how we want our communities to function.screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-51-21-pm

Fifth, the level of solidarity and support is incredible. People from all over the world are sending supplies, financial support and sometimes representatives to stand with the struggle at Standing Rock. There were flags from all over, representing indigenous people all across the planet, along with other struggles for autonomy and sovereignty, like the connection between the struggle in Palestine and Standing Rock, which we saw reflected in flags, signs and statements around the encampment. This is truly a struggle that has tremendous international support.

Finally, what is taking place at Standing Rock deserves our solidarity. We cannot ignore it, nor can we say that we have a different focus. We all need to support what is happening at Standing Rock in whatever way we can.leilaabdelrazaqindigenousprint_0

They are asking for financial support ton be send at this link or if you want to support the Michigan Host Tent site, go to this link

There are constant updates for what their needs are, so check this link regularly People made it very clear that if they welcome anyone who genuinely wants to be part of this struggle. However, if you can’t make the trek, you can support monetarily, you can write letters to people and send care packages. People kept saying it meant the world knowing that people were thinking of them. We can also engage in actions in our own communities that support the struggle in Standing Rock. We can organize a fundraiser, we can host an informational campaign and we can organize actions that make the connections, like confronting the banks and financial institutions that are backing the construction of this oil pipeline. For updates on what is happening in the Grand Rapids area, go to the Grand Rapids DAPL Resistance page

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