In its origin, Thanksgiving itself is not without its own dark swirl of violence-- so much so that it is known by a different name to the United American Indians of New England: National Day of Mourning. Though the exact origins of Thanksgiving are contested, it can be said that it was not uncommon that colony leadership would declare a Thanks-giving after a massacre of Native people who were viewed as a threat. Some sources report that the very first “Day of Thanksgiving” was declared in 1637 by Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had massacred some 700 Pequot people, including women and children.
Fast forward about 380 years. November 20, 2016— At Standing Rock, 160 Water Protectors are injured after law enforcement set off tear gas, rubber bullets, sound weapons, and a continuous flow of water cannons on over 400 peaceful demonstrators in temperatures in the lower 20s. It is this past Sunday before Thanksgiving, a day when so many falsely reminisce upon that idyllic image of the “pilgrims and Indians” and the respectful relations that were set forth this day.
Medic Vanessa Red Bull of the Cherokee Nation describes the event at Standing Rock last week, “Ice was literally forming on their body and on their clothing.” Law enforcement justified the heavy water spraying as a means to put out fires started by activists, but Red Bull explains that the fires were only to help people stay warm and prevent hypothermia, and were nowhere near the police. This statement was released shortly after the attack: “The physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council call for the immediate cessation of use of water cannons on people who are outdoors in 28F ambient weather with no means of active rewarming in these conditions. As medical professionals, we are concerned for the real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions.”
While many in the United States sat at a table sharing food and counting their blessings in the comfort of a warm home this past week, Native Americans and indigenous Water Protectors from all around the globe, stood firm in North Dakota, in protection of their rights and future generation’s rights to clean water, land, and air; protection of sacred spiritual and cultural sites and indigenous rights— and in protection of the life of our planet. Though more than 410 demonstrators have been arrested since August and though temperatures are quickly dropping with winter fast approaching, they remain firm.
A mere glance at the list of abuses the Standing Rock Water Protectors have endured over the past eight months since they began gathering in peaceful and prayerful resistance this past April quickly reveals this as yet another part in the story of genocide and the industrial and governmental exploitation and attacks upon Native people. Despite peaceful, prayerful gathering, dogs have been set loose to attack and intimidate; tear gas, pepper spray, bean bag and sponge rounds, and mace has been set off many times; elders and others have been arrested during prayer and ceremony, sacred sites have been purposefully bulldozed, along with aggressive arrests which have included completely strip searching Native people (See video)—not to mention arrests in which people were assigned numbers rather than names and were then placed in cells resembling dog cages (Link here)-- justified by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department as chain link fence enclosures that are “Temporary holding cells...used for 'mass arrest' situations only.” In addition, the Native people gathered at Standing Rock have experienced forceful and intimidating surveillance by helicopters, armored personnel carriers, planes and drones, armed forces with assault weapons and the National Guard deployed in September-- not to mention concern that chemical warfare may now be involved (Link here).
If these escalations are proven true, it would come as no surprise. This is part of the story of genocide and violent colonization waged against Native people for centuries. The story goes back farther than the founding of this country: Massacre after massacre after massacre, often including the murder of women, children, elders— and colonial celebrations over those massacres. Countless broken treaties. “Bounty hunting,” awarding murderers of Native people. Forced boarding schools which proclaimed that they would “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Land promised to tribes cut away-- like the Treaty of Fort Laramie being violated by the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline right now (See map). . Land and resources stolen by violence and force-- like the Black Hills of South Dakota that was promised Sioux territory, also referred to as the “Sell or Starve Bill of 1877.” Native people treated as “third class citizens”-- or worse.
Jodi Gilette, Former White House Advisor for Native American Affairs explains, “The original [Dakota Access Pipeline] route went near Bismarck, a community that’s 90% white, and they decided to not take that route because they did not want the pipeline near their water and then you have us saying the same thing, but we didn’t matter.” (Again, see map).
And yet, despite the overwhelming story of oppression, they rise. Despite the militarization of the energy industry and the government-sanctioned violence that is an all too familiar part of Native American history, they rise— and people are taking notice. The Army Corps of Engineers has temporarily halted the pipeline before its implementation under the Missouri River, due to inadequate counsel with the Standing Rock Sioux people.
As stated by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Chairman, Dave Archambault II, “This is a historic moment in time, the first time ever in the United States where over 300 tribes have congregated and said that they will stand in solidarity and unite with prayer.”
Yes, people are taking notice. Hundreds of veterans of the United States Armed Forces have come together and announced that they plan to “deploy” to Standing Rock to “assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation” on December 4-7 (Link here).
People are taking notice and responding with support. Our help is perhaps needed now more than ever: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this past Friday that the Standing Rock Water Protectors must leave camp on Corps-managed federal land by December 5 or face jail time. What they don’t acknowledge, is that this land was promised Sioux treaty land.
In the words of Jodi Gilette, Former White House Advisor for Native American Affairs, “We don’t have any place else to go. These are our only remaining homelands. We have to protect them.”
Please, take action. Recognize the imbalance in power, in privilege. Recognize the attack Native people face and have faced in this country for centuries. Let’s have a true Thanksgiving story to tell our children: when we stood in solidarity with our brothers and sisters—a real giving of thanks.
You can start NOW— Pick up the phone and CALL these agencies, demanding they cease the violence and stop the pipeline:
ND Office of the Governor: 701-328-2200
Morton County Sheriff's Dept 701-328-8118n and 701-667-3330
ND National Guard 701-333-2000
Senator of North Dakota 202-224-2043
For supplies and donations that are needed at Standing Rock and for more ways to support, click here.
JOIN US December 3rd: Let us go to North Dakota to deliver materials and to stand with them.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to join our water protectors.