Standing Rock teach-in at The New School

Artwork by Jaque Fragua

On Friday I attended the Standing Rock teach-in at work. I highly recommend watching the recording; in particular, the clear message of 15-year-old Zaysha Grinnell of ReZpect Our Water guides us into an unknown future. The event was well conceived and the speakers excellent; thank you to organizers and speakers. What struck me overall was the way in which almost every speaker acknowledged our presence on Lenape land: Manhattan, or Mannahatta, is Lenape territory. This is the first instance that I have witnessed such an acknowledgment in my seven years in the US. I am embarrassed that I haven’t voiced my internal wondering about this over the years. You see, in Australia where I lived for 14 years, such an acknowledgment was and is expected. For example, at a similar event in Sydney one would acknowledge the Cadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional owners of the land. I write this on Lenape territory. For an engaging history of Mannahatta I recommend the book of the same name by Eric W. Sanderson.

I read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in January 2010 when I moved to the US, to begin my attempt at understanding the context I was moving into. Around the same time Dr Jessica Metcalfe began her blog Beyond Buckskin, which I’ve followed from the early days to try to understand the impact on Native Americans of cultural appropriation by fashion brands. Native Appropriations by Dr Adrienne Keene is equally excellent, and I recommend both. I mention Metcalfe and Keene because they document 21st century colonization in the context of fashion, and as such are inseparable from the key issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The events at Standing Rock had me pick up Brown’s book again this week.

In 1883 Senator Henry L. Dawes traveled to Standing Rock to investigate how the Sioux had nearly come to sign away 14,000 square miles of land. As it turned out, they had been lied to. Sitting Bull, a Sioux chief, met with the Dawes commission: “He then reviewed the history of the Sioux during his lifetime, listing the government’s broken promises, but said that he had promised to travel the white man’s path and would keep his promises.” (Brown 2010: 425.) Senator John Logan, part of the commission, was scathing of Sitting Bull in his response, and finished with the following: “The government feeds and clothes and educates your children now and desires to teach you to become farmers, and to civilize you and make you as white men.” (p. 426) I share this for limited historical context to what is happening in North Dakota. The pipeline was diverted from its original route due to the perceived threat it posed for the drinking water of Bismarck, a town of mostly white residents. In an act of environmental racism that threat was transferred to the residents of Standing Rock. I recommend Brown’s book for a fuller picture of the systemic genocide by the US Government of native Americans in the second half of the 19th century. As Brown himself said of the book: “Americans who have always looked westward when reading about this period should read this book facing eastward.”

Energy Transfer Partners (the company behind DAPL) and the many companies like it building pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure are probably feeling desperate in knowing that projects like the DAPL have no future beyond the next 20 years, and probably less than that. The time to profit from such projects at any human and environmental cost is now. Still, 20 years is a longer time than the term of a government or a president, although whether that actually matters in an oligarchy is debatable. I’m reading John Wood’s (2007: 130) Design for Micro-Utopias and this passage resonates: “What we urgently need are more imaginative and playful ways of thinking that can be shared and enacted to create a wiser society. Certain aspects of our education and democratic systems actively discourage society from envisioning new futures. This is because the legacy of a somewhat bureaucratic and imperialistic mindset also makes it difficult to think beyond the negative discourse that characterises our disconnected behaviour as a species. What is required is a new methodology that embraces both actions and ideas.” I will return to this topic in the spring in relation to an article I’m working on.

Resources that were shared at the teach-in:

Below is the background provided about the teach-in. My thanks once more to Jaskiran Dhillon, the New York Stands with Standing Rock collective, The New School and all of the speakers for an excellent event; my education continues.

1,172 miles is the expected length of the Dakota Access Pipeline, set up to transport daily 470,000 barrels of crude oil from the rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to an oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois. 87% finished (as of Nov. 26, 2016), it has run into great opposition by Native American nations in Iowa and the Dakotas, including the Meskwaki and Oceti Sakowin Oyate, the Great Sioux Nation. They’ve recently been joined by a coalition of mainstream environmental organizations — Greenpeace, The Science & Environmental Health Network and the Sierra Club among them — that share their concerns regarding the underground pipeline’s long-term safety, its impacts on air, water, and wildlife, also raising questions of whether the state would have enough protections to address any harm caused by a potential spill.

Protests at the pipeline site in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation have drawn international attention. Built on the #StandingRockSyllabus, this teach-in is offered in support of the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) as part of the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective and features artists, youth organizers, scholars, and media makers.

Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux), Red Nation/University of New Mexico
History/Stories from the Frontlines

Jaque Fragua (Jemez Pueblo), artist
Native Resistance and the Arts

Zaysha Grinnell (Three Affiliated Tribes), ReZpect Our Water
Kettie Jean, ReZpect Our Water
Indigenous Youth Organizing

Jarrett Martineau (Cree and Dene), Creative Producer, Revolutions Per Minute

Teresa Montoya (Diné), New York University
Toxicity/Environmental Colonial Violence

Dean Saranillio, Assistant Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University
Settler Colonialism and Politicized Solidarity

Jaskiran Dhillon, Assistant Professor, Global Studies and Anthropology, The New School

This event is organized as part of the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective, with generous funding from the Dean’s Office at Eugene Lang College; Schools of Public Engagement’s Executive Dean’s Office; Bachelor’s Program for Adults and Transfer Studies, Global Studies, Environmental Studies, Anthropology, Milano, and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics.

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