In the earliest days of last autumn, you’d be convinced that total victory was achieved at Standing Rock. The Dakota Access Pipeline had been halted. Federal officials from the President’s circle had called an assessment on the risks of the beast. Bureaucracy seemed poised to drag the project into perpetual inaction. Was the Earth given a second chance?
Instead, our new President has hastened the pipeline with a coat of oil and rammed it through the snowy plains of the Dakotas. A caravan of soldiers and engineers will follow the concrete serpent through the fields, where it will burrow under the frozen soil and pump its way past an underwater aquifer, endangering the drinking water of thousands.
For all we know, it will leak. And when it does, local communities will be outraged. Mothers and children and grandparents and farmers will turn on the faucet and see brown goo flow down the sink. People will ask, how could this happen? How did we let this happen? The 600 defenders-of-the-earth arrested and the thousands more that fought in support will have an answer, backed-up by scars and phantom shivers.
We are faced once more with an empty promise. The promise of care for the Earth, the promise of rectifying the injustices of the past; gone as quickly as armies of oil-men descend for the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux and see stock options in the freckles of the West.
I grew up in the West. I know the lingering song that you hear in the fields, the river embankments, and the mountain trails. A song of a people who loved the land and treated it well, who were pushed out as far west as you could go, against the cold ends of military rifles and bayonets. You hear it in the names of places once colorful but now blindingly white. The music is soft, but filled with purpose and regret.
Only from afar did I ever hear the song at Standing Rock. It reminded and inspired me, as it did for many others. I wondered if we could finally fix the original sin of our past: the erasing of a people and the destruction of their land. For once it seemed possible. Now, that dream is on life support, and their song is threatened by silence. The Whitelash strikes again, only this time the Earth is on its last breath, its lungs filled with smoke and tear ducts filled with sand.
The advent of this failure is not a novel one. We have experienced this story before in the ash of burnt treaties and disregarded promises made over centuries of manifest destiny. Armies marching in formation down trails of dirt and tears. The forests made into farms, the farms furrowed by factories; again and again the cycle repeats.
What will our children say of the Pipeline and its plastic purpose? They’ll see it for what it is; another broken treaty, an admonition of what we are, and an abandonment of who we should be.
We still have the capacity to amend this chapter of history. The fight isn’t over, clearly. The Standing Rock Sioux wrote last night;
“We are greatly disappointed, but we are not DEFEATED. Stand with us. Together, we will rise.”
This gives me hope where my own well has run dry. For a project that sneaks under the Earth’s skin, maybe flight is the only defense. Rising up, rising above— it might just be the antidote to a monster of the ground. There is an element of hope and promise among the Standing Rock, something that I’ve long misunderstood. I mistook it as naiveté. I rightfully see it now as strength.
It gives me hope. Hope that this concrete beast may be stopped. Hope that, in spite of our society’s worst attempts, we may finally right this historic wrong.
Stay strong, Standing Rock. Stay strong.
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