Some commentators on Dakota Free Press and elsewhere have suggested that the protest by and on behalf of American Indians against the Dakota Access pipeline were a waste of money and media that could have been better invested in solving poverty, addiction, and other problems.
I offer a tentative hypothesis: might this successful political action against corporate colonialism rekindle cultural awareness, warrior spirit, and hope that activists can translate into action back home?
Such is the possibility of cultural reawakening suggested by participants in the Oceti Sakowin protest camp in North Dakota:
[Frank] Archambault founded Iktčé Wičháša Oyáte [A Common Men’s Society] shortly after he arrived, with his five children and grandchild, at the “water protector” encampments in August. He saw that there was work around the camp that wasn’t getting done, and he saw that there were men around camp not doing work. Now the group helps run security and coordinates work crews.
It’s a big change from Archambault’s previous life in Little Eagle, South Dakota, a community of about 300 people within the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. A recovering meth addict, Archambault describes the existence he left behind, before he joined the movement fighting the Dakota Access pipeline: “Sad.”
…“This is like an awakening,” Archambault said as he surveyed the camp from his spot on the hill. “Something I’ve been struggling with my whole life is doing something to be proud of.”
…Before getting involved in the Standing Rock movement, Jasilea Charger, 20, was working at a Taco John’s and living on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation, in her hometown of Eagle Butte, South Dakota.
On the reservation, she said, she felt “stuck”. She lost friends and family to the suicide epidemic. Her father died before she was born, and her mother has “lost her way”.
…“When I go home, I’m not going to be the same,” said Charger. “People back in our community deserve to know what it feels like to stand strong and pick each other up” [Julia Carrie Wong, “‘This Is an Awakening’: Native Americans Find New Hope After Standing Rock,” UK Guardian, 2016.12.08].
The Great White Bother’s promise to “solve” the Dakota Access pipeline issue “very quickly” bodes ill for the longevity of the water protectors’ political victory. But a sensible President might recognize that the cultural side effects of this victory, the ability of indigenous people like Archambault and Charger to translate this successful experience into practical action back in their communities, could be more valuable than propping up an unnecessary pipeline whose business case is currently kaput.