I have been meaning to talk about this week after week and have failed to do so. But it has become such a huge moral and ethical outrage that silence simply is not an option.
I am talking about the brutal violence and repression being visited on the peaceful protesters at Standing Rock.
The issue, as I expect you must know, revolves around a $3.8 billion project to build an oil pipeline, called the Dakota Access Pipeline or DAPL, across four states, from North Dakota to Illinois, from where the crude oil will be transported to refineries via railroad tank cars and an existing pipeline. It likely then will be sold overseas.
The pipeline route crosses Sioux land that was granted to the tribe by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1857 but later was taken away without agreement from or ceding of land by the tribe. (I'd add that rather than "granted," it would be better to say the land was "guaranteed" to the tribe because "granted" implies the land was ours to give - which it wasn't. We simply took it.)
In April, concerned over the prospect of damage to sacred sites and the safety of the water presented by the project, members of the Standing Rock Lakota Nation and some allies established a Spirit Camp at Sacred Rock near Lake Oahe, where the pipeline is to tunnel under the Missouri River, which is the tribe's main source of drinking water.
There has been an encampment there ever since, protesting the pipeline and calling for it to be halted or at the very least rerouted.
Interestingly, a alternative route north of Bismarck had been proposed originally but it was rejected because of its proximity to water supply areas, a consideration that was not extended to the Standing Rock Lakota.
In the months since, the Natives and their allies, both Native and non-Native who have joined them, who jointly call themselves water protectors, have been subjected to increasing levels of mistreatment and violence by officials even as they themselves remained almost entirely peaceful. It has been bad enough that at least two among the police have quit rather than continue to take part and some police forces have refused to provide additional personnel to back up North Dakota cops.
Between August and the end of November, police made nearly 575 arrests, including at least seven journalists, creating, officials now whine, an unprecedented burden for the state's court system. (Remember what I said a few weeks ago about maybe having to fill the jails?)
Things came to a head in a way on November 20. That evening, protesters tried to move a burned-out truck that officials had placed across the roadway to keep the water protectors from approaching the work area down the road. The police responded with rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, pepper spray, explosive tear gas grenades, and water cannons despite the fact the temperature was well below freezing.
Over 300 people were injured. Twenty-six were taken to local hospitals.
Hilariously, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier claimed "We don't have water cannons" and "this is just a fire hose" as if that was supposed to make a real difference and that, get this, "It was sprayed more as a mist, and we didn't want to get it directly on them, but we wanted to make sure to use it as a measure to help keep everybody safe."
So you see, it was for their own good that they were soaked in water in subfreezing temperatures.
But the protesters still wouldn't go away, the encampment still would not disappear. So officials have upped the ante.
On November 25, the Army Corps of Engineers demanded that thousands of people clear out of a second camp, known as Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, located on land the Corps controls.
Three days later, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared that the camp must be evacuated immediately.
That was followed up by the Morton County Sheriff's Department saying it would begin to block supplies from reaching the camps. They backed off that later, saying they would merely impose a fine of $1000 on anyone bringing in supplies.
So officials couldn't wait the encampment out, they couldn't drive it out, they couldn't order it our, now they will try to starve it out.
And oh, look, they learned something:
So you see, it's all about public health and safety! About inadequate shelter! About building codes! Not at all about politics or serving the interests of our corporate masters, no!
Those of us with reasonably long memories will recall that this is exactly the same sort of claim that was used to crush the Occupy encampments: that they had to be demolished for the health and safety of the people in the encampments.
It remains to be seen how successful this reprise will be. On December 4, a date that may well have passed before you see this, as many as 2,000 veterans will gather at Standing Rock for a three-day "muster" to act as human shields between protesters and the cops.
One veteran intending to take part, Loreal Black Shawl, said "Okay, are you going to treat us veterans who have served our country in the same way as you have those water protectors?"
That too, remains to be seen.
What is long since obvious is that this pipeline should be stopped and the permit to drill under Lake Oahe and the Missouri River should be denied and that what has been going on at Standing Rock is an absolute outrage.