By THOMAS FITZGERALD
The Dakota Pipeline battle is over and the smoke has cleared at Standing Rock, and once again history records another injustice, one more in a long train of abuses perpetrated upon First Nations people by a North American government.
Since First Nations Drum last report on Standing Rock was published late November of last year, winter arrived and camp population dwindled to a few hundred people. In January, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault called for camps to disband, citing harsh weather conditions and possible contamination of the Missouri River during the coming spring flood.
Authorities set the deadline for all protestors to evacuate both camps – Sacred Stone Camp, and, Oceti Sakowin Camp – for February 22. In a news release one day prior to the deadline, Minnesota Governor Doug Burgum announced people were being allowed to leave voluntarily.
“You know that our big ask for tomorrow is anyone remaining in the camp, we want to make sure that they know they have an opportunity to voluntarily leave. Take your belongings, remove anything that may be culturally significant and we’ll help you get on your way if you need to do that,” Burgum was quoted by CNN.
Most protestors, about 100, obliged, and left voluntarily. However, 33 persons were arrested the following day for refusal to comply with the government’s demand, this according to the North Dakota Joint Information Center. According to North Dakota authorities, an additional 23 people were arrested during site cleanup, bringing the total number of persons arrested to 55. On February 24, one day after the deadline to evacuate expired, via social media – Twitter – the Morton County Sheriff’s Department declared the camp cleared just after 2 p.m.
Directional drilling under Lake Oahe is complete and Dakota Access intends to place the pipeline into service on May 14 of this year. Lake Oahe is located one half mile upstream from the Sioux tribe’s Standing Rock Reservation. The Dakota Pipeline does not cross Sioux land but at it nearest point comes within about 150 meters from Standing Rock Reservation.
Sacred Stone Camp was founded by Standing Rock’s Historic Preservation Officer, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, in April 2016, and served as the center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline.
The change in season to warm summer weather brought with it an increase in the number of protestors. At its peak Sacred Stone became home to 10,000 people. This lead to the creation of an overflow camp, the Oceti Sakowin Camp (the Lakȟótiyapi name for the Great Sioux Nation or Seven Fires Council). Oceti Sakowin was the camp closest to where the pipeline runs beneath the Missouri River.
History Between the US Government and Great Sioux Nation
Land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation was taken by the US government by authority of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The Sioux were restricted to land east of the Missouri River and the State line of South Dakota to the west. The Black Hills, sacred land to the Sioux, were awarded to the tribe.
The infamous General George Custer led his 7th Calvary into the Black Hills in 1874 in direct violation of the treaty. With Custer’s discovery of gold in the Black Hills, a “Gold Rush” ensued leading the US government to seek negotiations to rent or buy the Black Hills from the rightful owners – the Lakota Sioux.
Lakota Sioux spiritual leader Sitting Bull led his peoples’ opposition against acceptance of further encroachment upon, and theft of, their ancestral land leading to another war between a First Nations tribe defending their land against a US federal government looking to take it.
The Great Sioux War of 1876, or, the Black Hills War, included the Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho, and ended in 1877. The war was not without a significant victory for indigenous forces. It was at the Battle of Little Bighorn where Custer met his demise. Known as Custer’s Last Stand, the battle was an overwhelming victory for the Plains “Indians.”
As happened throughout U.S. history, superior resources enabled the US federal government to have its way, forcing the Sioux to surrender. The US government employed a common tactic when combating a First Nations people – attack and destroy encampments and property. The Agreement of 1877 ending the Black Hills War included a provision allowing the US government to steal the Black Hills away from the Sioux Nation.