We know because there is a steady flow of people and contributions from people here in Santa Fe who are united by kinship ties or a shared world view to the Standing Rock Sioux. Thirty students from IAIA have driven up to camp in the forest of tepees; winter clothes are being trucked up to help the protesters cope with the bitter North Dakota winter, now closing in.
The protest will continue, even though legal remedies seem to have been exhausted; permission to dig trenches for the pipeline was granted by the federal authorities and the BIA—but the tribe was never consulted, and their anxiety about possible burial sites and sacred artifacts was brushed aside.
Now we are entering a new phase: rumor has it that the tribe is arming itself for a violent encounter with the workers who are pushing through the encampment to continue their trenching.
I’m reminded of century-old struggles these tribes have endured when finally, goaded beyond all reason by invasion of their sovereign lands, the young braves began to arm themselves while tribal elders pleaded for patience. Patience is not often the business of young men, and in the case of gross injustice, patience may no longer be appropriate.
The rights of the tribes, even when inscribed in treaties created by the U.S. government, have been ignored over and over for the past two hundred years. At issue is the question of whether Native American sovereignty has ever really been recognized or accepted by the powers that be; over and over, the rich mineral resources beneath tribal lands have been bulldozed, the rivers contaminated, and multinational companies have reaped the rewards.
The question, always, is the same: who owns the land? Who has the right to tell the story?
The same conflict fired my great-great-grandmother, Margaret Erskine’s, kidnapping by Shawnees in 1798 when she was pushing with a band of would-be settlers from Virginia into Kentucky.
The Ohio Valley was historically Shawnee hunting land, essential to their survival; treaties signed by the Iroquois, ceding the valley, had never been seen or signed by the Shawnee. The violence they inflicted on settlers (although not on my ancestress: she was adopted into the tribe and well treated by them during the four years she spent in a Shawnee camp on the Ohio River) was their only recourse against the invasion that eventually ruined them.
Now we have the Standing Rock Sioux battling to save land that is essential for their survival.
The hardship and even the violence the Sioux may have to endure deserve national attention, particularly from President Obama, who has tried to restore lost land to the tribes.
It is not hard to see the connection between the official violence inflicted on people viewed as expendable and Donald Trump’s verbal and physical violence inflicted on women he views as expendable. As Nicholas Kristof points out in his significant New York Times column Friday, “What Donald Trump Is Right About”, the actions of armed security guards or even of the U.S. military against the protesters at Standing Rock will matter enormously to the Sioux and to any other group, or individual, defending a right to authority.
Native Americans suffer heavily from the abuse Kristof enumerates in his column: “…we already have a national problem with sexual harassment: One large survey found that almost one-quarter of American women said they had been groped in public spaces…” while “…every year, 550,000 women in America require medical attention after an assault by a boyfriend or husband”—not a stranger.
Kristof goes on, “That’s an issue that is belatedly being addressed through screenings under Obamacare”—and I appreciate the quotations around the misnaming of the Affordable Health Care Act, used to pump up opposition—“which Trump wants to repeal, and by the Violence Against Women Act, which a large bloc of Republicans opposed in Congress.”
Our bodies, our land, our authority, all under siege.
As I fight to protect my biography of Doris Duke from bowdlerizing, I am using my authority as a writer to ask: can a great fortune and its benevolent uses, founded on the poisoning of millions with cigarettes, be rendered blameless? “All great fortunes are founded on a crime” is a cliché not heard much anymore, but true none the less. As anyone knows who has tried to make money, it usually takes a combination of luck, hard work, a benefactor, and an advantageous marriage to bring off the trick—if not an outright crime.
And, in case you don’t know that very useful verb, “to bowdlerize,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means “To remove material considered improper or offensive, especially when the result that it is weaker or less effective.” Notice that “actionable” or “inaccurate” are not part of the definition.
Much of the struggle is, always, about language: who owns it? Who has the right to use it in all its power?
That’s why the awarding of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize to Bob Dylan for his poetry means so much and arouses so much controversy.
This has nothing to do with defending the difference between “high” and “low” poetry. Nobody knows what those definitions mean, anyway, since they can only be understood in light of profound class differences.
The real issue is whether this prize should go to a gravel-voiced boy from nowhere who had the temerity to write and sing about the crucial political issue of his time: WAR.
Not land, this time, but language.What a relief to turn to Friday’s New Mexican with its story of a “diminutive” high school girl, Jocelyn Fernandez, scoring the second touchdown in a varsity game by a New Mexican young woman. Previous to the game, she’d heard on Twitter that the opposing team was saying girls don’t belong in football.
But her senior classmate, Curtis Rogers, told the reporter, Will Webber, “I’ve been playing with her since I was 10 years old and I know what this means to her.”
Fernandez said, “I wanted to score this game so bad…I came out wanting it and I got my glory.”
Glory for the Sioux at Standing Rock will come, as well. They need all of us standing with them.