Opinion Columns & Blogs

Standing Rock

For the past several weeks there has been a major protest going on in North Dakota that has gotten very little coverage from mainstream media. Clearly the lack of coverage is continued evidence of the attitude that is held toward Native Americans in our land and the ways in which they are marginalized.

The Standing Rock Sioux of North Dakota are trying to save their homeland. They are protesting the effort underway to build a multibillion dollar oil pipeline that would span four western states. This would affect many native communities and their land in multiple ways. Their voices need to be heard and they are making great efforts to ensure that happens. Over these past weeks they have been able to create a community of protesters that is larger than any gathering of Native Americans in more than a century.

This impressive effort on the part of the Standing Rock Sioux is a part of a long-standing tradition of resistance to the destruction of their sovereignty, which stands in great contradiction to the notion of the native communities as “vanishing Americans.” Their history of protest has deep historical roots beginning in the 19th century with Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act as many amazing appeals were made through tribal responses to the removal policy, though it did not stop the action.

It is good for us in the 21st century to know that there was resistance because it is quite easy to accept the narratives that we have formed about the manner in which the native people accepted all that was done to them.

The resistance to the removal is not the only example of defiance. A few others are the Mashpee Revolt of 1833-1834, regarding whites settling on native land in Massachusetts, 1879’s Standing Bear v. Cook case which established Native American personhood under the law, and the legal petitions, written activism and land occupation of Paiute chief and author Sarah Winnemucca’s fight against her people’s removal. Her efforts led to many Paiutes being able to return to their Oregon homeland. There was resistance from native people both in Canada and the United States against the Keystone Pipeline effort as well.

The words of Martin Luther King Jr. echo in my mind as he reminded us that the liberation of blacks and whites was tied together. It seems clear to me that liberation for all of us is tied together. Native Americans, the people who were inhabiting this land when the settlers arrived and later when the slaves and a handful of free blacks arrived, have to be factored into the liberation struggles in America. We cannot build a truly democratic republic with native people being pushed to the edge and treated as if they did not actually exist.

Thus, there is much work to be done. The development of greater awareness of the plight of our Native American sisters and brothers is a critical part of that work. It is not satisfactory to have them tucked away on reservations where they are plagued by joblessness, alcoholism, extreme poverty in too many cases, and all of the other problems that come with being made invisible. Of course there are a few exceptions in this regard, but the overall picture is one that needs to become a part of the consciousness of every freedom fighter in this land.

Whether or not Standing Rock is able to halt the North Dakota pipeline effort does not end the necessity for enlarging the conversation about civil and human rights in America to include them. We need to form new coalitions that include all of those among us who have to fight for their complete liberation.

Poor whites, Native Americans and African Americans need to come together and invite all of the new immigrants that experience oppression in our land to join in as well.

We need to be a “standing rock.”

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at kayma53@att.net.