Mikhail Lyubansky Ph.D.

Between the Lines

Reflections from Standing Rock

As Thanksgiving nears, the events in Standing Rock take on even more meaning

Posted Nov 21, 2016

Guest blog by Anna Lemler and Maria Ibarra-Frayre

This past week, the two of us went to be with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota to stand in solidarity with native people who are fighting for their right to water and land, and also for their liberation. For those who don't yet have a sense of what's going on, here's a brief overview.

As it stands, the company has been told to halt construction but hasn’t since the financial fine for breaking federal law is not close to comparable to the profit they would make. 

With a short week and a half of preparation, we were able to gather over $1,500, 13 bags of winter coats, 5 sleeping bags, and 12 grocery bags of food from a few University of Michigan schools and the local community. Using a borrowed mini-van from a professor, we stuffed everything in and made the 18 hour trek out. In the short video below, we explain why.

For our four-day stay, we camped in the main camp called Oceti Sakowin filled with tipis, army and camping tents. With mild temperatures in the day, it dropped into the 20’s at night, so we did our best to stay warm in our summer tent covered by two tarps and in zero-degree sleeping bags (with the help of additional blankets and warm water bottles by our toes).

Absolutely no photos or video footage are allowed in the camp due to the threat of security and their desire to spy and/or criminalize any behavior. In fact, police have the ability to turn on your phone and record even when it’s off. Since we do not have our own photos to share, please check out the video below for an overview and images. Additionally, if you simply Google images of “No DAPL” you’ll see an assortment of photos.

Upon arrival, we went to an orientation (that covered much material from this resource packet) with three foci: (1) the camp/space is indigenous-centered, (2) we are building a new legacy (one of love and not oppression), and (3) that we need to be of use! We took these to heart, especially as Maria sorted through hundreds of food donations and I built wooden floors in prep of winter conditions (til 1 in the morning!). Winter has already begun and it is frightening knowing the deathly low temperatures and high winds that will hit the plains of North Dakota while people continue to resist exploitation and fight for their rights.

John Duffy Wikipedia Commons. Drummers and other Indigenous activists in Seattle, WA march in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline
Source: John Duffy Wikipedia Commons. Drummers and other Indigenous activists in Seattle, WA march in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline

The Camp itself is one of resistance. The native people are resisting centuries of genocide, colonialism, environmental devastation and oppression. A beautiful gathering of members of tribes from all over the country have come to support one another and resist peacefully.  Right now, as the Dakota Access Pipeline tries to build under the Missouri River which would damage sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the risk of the pipeline breaking and hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic sludge poisoning the water supply is imminent (like this recent burst).

An impactful and meaningful element of the camp was the emphasis and expectation that everyone in camp act in prayer and ceremony at all times. This meant no drugs, alcohol, or swearing, in addition to treating each other with kindness and love. The daily meetings (or ‘gatherings’) were run in a Native format with bookended prayer and an emphasis on hearing all voices in the community, no matter how long it took. We attended ceremonies of celebration and reflection, and a vigil to wash away the trauma and violence that had occurred at the river a week prior. We also prayed for the pipeline workers, law enforcement and the oppressors -- how they have so much room for love in their hearts is truly remarkable.

Fibonacci Blue Flickr Creative Commons. St. Paul, Minnesotta solidarity rally to show support for the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline
Source: Fibonacci Blue Flickr Creative Commons. St. Paul, Minnesotta solidarity rally to show support for the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline

It is important to us to not be silent about the oppression of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, among others. With Thanksgiving around the corner, we commit to talking with our loved ones about the current struggles of Native Americans and the legacy of racism and genocide in this particular holiday.

With the recent election, there is even more work to do. We hope you will take these actions with us.

For all of us on Thanksgiving:

Learn whose land you occupy by using this website and take a moment to honor and acknowledge the people and land. Learn more and talk about your family’s ancestry (including any ugly truths!).

In general: Donate money specifically here. Attend an anti-racist training near you.

Make phone calls for Standing Rock. Download the document attached and organize a group of friends/family to hold each other accountable! There are two tabs with info and a logging chart.

For white people (from Anna): We, white people, voted Trump into presidency - we now have to take greater action than ever before. We (and more importantly people of color) don’t have time for us to sit in our fragility and instead I deeply encourage all of us to talk with each other in our white communities, make calls to avoid white supremacists from being in office, and join an anti-racist organizing group while taking care of each other. Please read this statement (which I helped create) to learn more about our role in white supremacy and transformation, and share/use this resource guide and hotline(!) for talking with white people at Thanksgiving.

For non-native people of color (from Maria): Just like white people, it is our responsibility to actively work to dismantle colonialism.  We must ask ourselves, in what way do I, as a non-native, POC, benefit from settler colonialism? Do I know the native and colonial history of my people? Centering a non-colonial paradigm is difficult at first, it was for me.  Before my time at Standing Rock, I had never taken the time to consider whose land I live on, which Indigenous community lived in the land I now get to “own”.  However, unless we recognize the complexities of anti-racist movements we will unintentionally replicate a black-white paradigm that hurts us all. Here are some articles that are worth reading this Thanksgiving break.

Why Racial Justice Needs to Address Settler Colonialism and Native Rights

Why the Black-White Binary Obfuscates and Distorts: Why the Antiracism Movement Must Reject It. 

Lastly, if you are considering visiting Standing Rock, we have put together a document of some thoughts that we thought would be helpful after having been on the ground recently.