In an isolated rural area of a prairie along the banks of the Missouri River in the state of North Dakota, a line has been drawn in the sand (or in this case, the water). This line represents the fundamental difference between the paradigm of the industrialized and the paradigm of the caretakers of the earth. For the past months, the two mindsets have clashed on land, air, and in the water.
Indigenous Nations Unite To Protect The Earth
Founded by LaDonna Bravebull Allard in April of 2016, what started as a small camp at a centre of cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline has become a centre point of cultural renewal for the Oceti Sakowin, commonly known as the Lakota/Dakota Nation, and many other tribal nations. Over the past several months, the camp has transformed into a gathering place for over 300 Indigenous nations from the Americas and around the world. They have come to share in their struggles against the destruction of their bio-regions by industrial fossil fuel extraction. Peace agreements and unity compacts between Indigenous nations have been formed and sealed with sacred ceremony.
Non-native allies have also been called to support the camp and to stand as partners for the protection of the natural world and future generations. Since its founding, the camp and its environmental protection resolve has grown into an international movement. To date, the camp fluctuates between 1000 and 3000 people at any time, with millions of people around the world supporting from home.
The Sacred Stone Camp was originated to be a place of spiritual renewal, a place to pray and to protect the earth and the waters. The mantra of the camp is called out to all who can hear, “Mni Wiconi,”— “Water is Life.” Indigenous people say they are not protestors, but rather, “Water Protectors.”
The Truth Behind The Police Brutality
On the other side of the line is the Dakota Access Pipeline, its security forces, and the militarized police. The Dakota Access Pipeline is the latest attempt at creating pipeline transportation infrastructure to pump crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Texas refineries. Then, it would be shipped out and sold on the international market. This private cooperate venture has repeatedly used unethical methods and manipulated laws to achieve its goals.
They have enacted eminent domain on private landowners, supported by local and state government, even though this project doesn’t meet the qualifications of eminent domain. They disregarded and dismissed tribal governments in the planning process before construction began. They willfully destroyed areas of cultural and historic significance without allowing full and proper assessment. They have hired contract security who used attack dogs on unarmed men, women, and children. They have collaborated with state and local law enforcement to violently attack anyone who stands against their interest. They have not once reached out to peacefully navigate this conflict, choosing instead the route of force and violence.
Conflicts and tensions have peaked during the past weeks as the pipeline construction approached the Missouri River and the Sacred Stone Camp. Water Protectors set up a front-line protest camp directly in the path of the pipeline after President Obama’s call for the Dakota Access Pipeline to voluntarily halt construction near the river went unheeded. On October 27th, multiple police agencies in riot gear and armed with heavy military vehicles violently forced the protectors out of the front-line camp. The conflict between militarized police and Water Protectors has continued and is now located on the shores of a tributary of the Missouri River.
This ongoing struggle located in the middle of the vast and sparsely populated Great Plains has become a convergence of two alternate stories of humanity. On one side of the line, there’s the Indigenous peoples and their allies whose mindset and hearts are in intimate relationship with the nature. They believe that which supports all life to be the most sacred. Their motivation is life and for the future generations. On the other side of the line is the industrialized mindset, which includes tearing a trench in the earth to pipe liquid death across the land and through the waters. They are protected by misguided police clothed in riot gear, guarded by paid mercenaries — all in the name of profit and the continuation of a dangerous paradigm.
The actions taken by the Dakota Access Pipeline and the State of North Dakota against the Water Protectors has become the edge of the fight for the survival of the human relationship with nature.
The Oceti Sakowin call the pipeline the “Black Snake.” This title speaks to more than just the colour of the crude oil which it may transport; it speaks to tribal prophecy of a time when a black snake will come upon the land to poison and kill life. To many people, the Dakota Access Pipeline is the latest attempt of the Black Snake trying to find a foothold. Legitimate fears that the pipeline will eventually rupture and spill its venom upon the land and in the waters are at the heart of the protector camp.
The fight against the Black Snake is revealing the power of fossil fuels to corrupt. The Black Snake is not just a pipeline that will pump toxic crude oil over 1000 miles across the land and water, potentially contaminating the environment that provides food and water for millions. The pipeline is only a manifestation of a much greater poison. The true poison of the Black Snake is much more pervasive, elusive, and has seeped into almost all of humanity. This Black Snake is the insatiable energy of contention, greed, violence, and deception.
This Black Snake is as old as western history. It has infected the people as they forgot or were ripped away from their original relationship with the earth. It is like a parasite that enters the belly of humans and starts oozing the toxins of fear into its hosts; the snake feeds the deepest fears of the human psyche. Fear and a sense of lack fill its victims, strengthening the snake. Eventually, fear is not enough and violent action is called for. People begin to dominate one another. This Black Snake has been living with people for generations now.
This paradigm was once contained in the Middle East, in a land that has been ravaged by continuous wars for the past 5,000 years. The current state of the Middle East is the product of this snake reaping its harvest. Over the last thousand years, the snake’s power has grown and the infection has spread. It was brought to the Americas in the belly of the Conquistadors and the colonizers. The snake now is as big as the world and has the earth in its strangle hold. It is squeezing the life out of the earth and all of its inhabitants.
Over the past months I have vigilantly followed the unfolding events, watching the Black Snake and the Water Protectors. I have supported the Sacred Stone camp from afar with constant prayer and financial contributions. On October 28th, a fire was awakened in me and I knew that now is the time to go to the Sacred Stone Camp. Within a few hours I talked to my wife and confirmed my plane tickets.
What lit the match was seeing the violent arrest of two of the medic team while treating the patients during the events October 27th. As a healthcare professional and someone who has worked 17 years in emergency medicine, I can tell you that police violently arresting medics is beyond outrageous. People providing medical treatment in any conflict, and not engaging in combat, is considered sacred. Respect and protection of medical personnel is even written into the Geneva Convention:
Article 9 of the 1906 Geneva Convention provides:
The personnel charged exclusively with the removal, transportation, and treatment of the sick and wounded, as well as with the administration of sanitary formations and establishments … shall be respected and protected under all circumstances. If they fall into the hands of the enemy they shall not be considered as prisoners of war.
Of all people to know this, the police should know this best. Medics are not there to take sides. They are there to provide help and hope to all people in need. Perhaps it was a slip in ethics and a temporary disorientation of the moral compass of the police? Are they so truly lost in the violence of protecting the cooperate state and unreasonable laws that they can’t see their own humanity? Have they forgotten that they too will one day be injured or sick, and will call upon the help of medics?
It was while watching the violent arrest of my fellow medical professional that I knew the Black Snake was corrupting even the most sacred of our human connections. It was time to go and help.
As an ally to the Indigenous people, it was important to be in a supportive role. In my former career, I was a paramedic/EMT. I was trained in Critical Incident Stress management and Incident Command Systems. With this background in mind, I heard the call from the Water Protectors at the Standing Rock Camp. Helping the Water Protectors on the front line is something that I can do. Something that I can tell my grandchildren I did to make their lives better.
What can you do?