Last week, I was privileged to spend two days at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Thousands of Native Americans have been camping along the Missouri river for months in an effort to defend clean water and sacred land from the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
I had my heart broken listening to the testimony of Chase Iron Eyes and Bobbi Jean Three Legs in a town-hall-style meeting. I had my hope renewed standing under grey prairie skies beside the Rev Jesse Jackson, bearing witness to the largest gathering of Native Americans in modern history. Representing hundreds of tribes, these courageous water protectors support the Standing Rock Sioux, defending their water and their way of life.
Plans call for the Dakota Access pipeline to carry highly toxic fracked oil across four states, 200 waterways, and land sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux. The protesters know that pipelines leak, explode, pollute and poison land and water, and they don’t want that happening to any of the millions of people who depend on the Missouri river. So they protest – peacefully. Inspired by a band of young Lakota runners crisscrossing the country on foot, they spend their days praying and chanting, and saying “no” to violations of their land, their health and their freedom.
But their peaceful efforts are being met with force. I heard first-hand accounts of violent encounters with armed private security guards, police bearing assault rifles, and aggressive arrests by the hundreds. I see the faces of the people I met on my Facebook feed, now marred by rubber bullets, eyes watering from teargas. Against these unarmed protesters, North Dakota’s governor has spent millions of dollars on additional security forces and even sent in the national guard.
This makes no sense. North Dakota is not in a state of emergency; it is in a state of grace. The protesters threaten nothing except an outdated system of dirty, dangerous energy."