Dakota Access Pipeline Update; Harney Peak Renamed “Black Elk”; U of Winnipeg Starts Indigenous Studies Requirement

A federal court in Washington D.C. heard arguments yesterday regarding the Standing Rock Reservation’s effort to get an injunction against the Dakota Access Pipeline that would carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields to Illinois for processing. The pipeline would cross under the Missouri River very near the Reservation’s drinking water intake. A ruling is expected Sept. 9, according to a PBS story. Protests at Standing Rock continue, with the support of many tribes and allies.

Here are a few updates on the story.

  • MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell gave a powerful commentary in support of efforts to block the pipeline, providing the context of the history many people like to forget. Native Americans, he says, have been treated more harshly than any enemy the United States has ever had. “No Native American tribe has ever been treated as well as we treated Germans after World War II,” he said. The video runs about 4 minutes. “… This country was founded on genocide before the word genocide was invented.”
  • Later this month, the Minneapolis City Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee will consider a resolution titled: Expressing Solidarity With Indigenous Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipline. Given that 11 of the 13 Councilmembers have signed on as authors, it should pass easily.
  • An earlier blog said that the Diocesan Council of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota voted to stand in support of the Standing Rock’s efforts to block the pipeline. There is now a Facebook Page “Episcopalians STAND with Standing ROCK.

Harney Peak SD Renamed “Black Elk Peak”

Black Elk Peak (Wikimedia Commons)
Black Elk Peak (Wikimedia Commons)

Harney Peak, South Dakota’s highest point, has been renamed “Black Elk Peak” by the federal government, according to a story in Indian County Today. The vote by the U.S Board of Geographic Names was 12-0, with one abstention.

South Dakota political leaders had tried to block the name change and expressed disappointment in the decision, but the change is being celebrated in Indian Country. According to the Indian Country Today article:

The name Harney Peak has long been a source of anger and resentment for the Oceti Sakowin [Seven Council Fires] and the various treaty tribes. At the so-called Battle of Blue Water Creek near present day Winnebago, Nebraska, Army Gen. William S. Harney’s men massacred Lakota women and children in September 1855. On that same expedition, a surveyor with Harney’s party named this highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains after the general, though he never came within five miles of the peak.

University of Winnipeg Starts Indigenous Course Requirement For All Students

Here’s an inspiring story out of Canada. After learning about disrespect to indigenous people on campus, students at the University of Winnipeg started efforts to require their peers to learn more about Canada’s First Peoples.

The Guardian wrote about the change in a story headlined: “Canadian universities require indigenous studies“. (Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, also is starting an indigenous studies requirement.) According to the Guardian, the University of Winnipeg has 60 courses approved or in development that would fulfill the requirement, “ranging from a course on indigenous people and treaties, to an indigenous women’s history class.”


Update: Dakota Access Pipeline Protest

Here is an update to yesterday’s blog outlining the current protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Reservation.

Today, a federal court in Washington D.C. will hear a suit brought by the Standing Rock Reservation seeking an injunction against the pipeline. There is no guarantee the judge will issue a ruling today, and regardless of the outcome, the losing side most likely will appeal.

Indian Country Today ran an exclusive interview with Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II on the suit. He said:

What I think is that all of our Nations have been faced with wrongs—usually projects like this where tribes don’t have the opportunity to have any consultation on something that will affect their homelands. We are never afforded the protection that the companies are afforded when they get their easements. Tribes across this nation are continually paying the costs for the benefits or gains of others. …

This pipeline is making its way through our territory—even though there was an alternative route north of Bismarck, until someone claimed that they are concerned with safe drinking water for that community. They rerouted it north of Standing Rock. We complain too, because we’re concerned for our future generations and their drinking water. They don’t listen.

Pastor Joan Conroy (Oglala Sioux Tribe), President of the American Indian/Alaska Native Lutheran Association, issued the following statement: Continue reading

Native American Allies, Churches, and the United Nations Asked to Help Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

Native Americans and their allies are coming from across the country to support the Standing Rock Reservation’s efforts to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172 mile long pipeline that would carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields to Illinois for processing.

As tensions rise, they are asking for more help, from church people to the United Nations.

One of the key issues is that the pipeline will run under the Missouri River just one mile from Standing Rock Reservation’s drinking water intake. The pipeline threatens their drinking water and also will run through sacred sites, opponents say. (The reservation straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border towards the west.)

Several thousand people are estimated to have joined the growing protest at Standing Rock, called the “Camp of the Sacred Stones.” The gathering has triggered a strong reaction by the state. According to the Bismarck Tribune, in a story headlined: “State pulls relief resources from swelling Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp,”

North Dakota’s homeland security director ordered the removal of state-owned trailers and water tanks from the Dakota Access Pipeline protest campsite Monday, citing mounting reports of unlawful activity …

… the loss of their main drinking water supply came as a blow and sent local officials scrambling to find an alternative water source.

Those organizing the protests maintain they are peaceful.

The Indigenous Environmental Network has appealed for national and international human rights observers and church leaders to come and witness. Continue reading

Federal Reserve Touts Importance of Native American Language Immersion Programs

The Federal Reserve Bank just published an article discussing the importance of the Dakota and Ojibwe language revitalization work going on in our community and around the country.

The article highlights the work at Wicoie Nandagikendan, a Dakota and Ojibwe early childhood language immersion program in Minneapolis. The story ran Friday in the Federal Reserve’s publication “Community Dividend,” written by economist Rob Grunewald. The headline reads: “Early childhood Native language immersion develops minds, revitalizes cultures: Learning their indigenous languages from a very young age may prepare Native American children for success in school and life, with benefits spilling over to their families and communities.” Continue reading

ELCA Repents for the “Church’s Complicity in the Evils of Colonialism”

We reported last week that the highest legislative body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted overwhelmingly to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. We now have the language it passed, as well as comments from Native leaders within the ELCA. Continue reading

Making the Word “Tribal” a Term of Derision

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke wrote a piece published in The Hill yesterday describing the recent violence in the city of Milwaukee as “tribal behavior.” He was commenting on the rioting that erupted in the city this weekend after an African American officer shot an armed African American man. (Clarke himself is African American, and critical of both Black Lives Matter and the “policies of liberal Democrats.”) In his piece, he wrote:

What happened Saturday night and again Sunday night had little to do with police use of force – it was a collapse of the social order where tribal behavior leads to reacting to circumstances instead of waiting for facts to emerge. The law of the jungle replaced the rule of law in Milwaukee Saturday night over an armed career criminal suspect who confronted police.”

Clarke’s word choice is powerful and problematic. Without going into the details of the Milwaukee incident, notice the deeply negative connotations of the word “tribal.” Clarke could have made his point without using the word. It creates unnecessary harm. The association most people have with tribes are Native American tribes, more appropriately called Native nations. In the Op-Ed, tribal life is characterized as savage and uncivilized, a collapse of social order. Tribes are characterized reacting without thinking. They are living under the “law of the jungle.”

(Merriam Webster defines “tribe” as “a group of people that includes many families and relatives who have the same language, customs, and beliefs.” So unlike Clarke’s use of the term, “tribal” does imply a social order.)

This is not to say that Clarke’s word choice was intentionally offensive. It just shows how these negative images of Native Americans and “tribes” are deeply ingrained in our language and culture.


Another Indian Mascot Falls in North Dakota; Chowanoke People in North Carolina Reclaim Land and Identity

From Wikimedia Commons
From Wikimedia Commons

The North Dakota University dropped the mascot name of “Fighting Sioux” in 2012, following a long and contentious debate about its offensive nature. Next up are changes to North Dakota  highway signs, which features the silhouette of a Native leader in headdress.

According to a blog called “The First Scout“:

In 1923, Red Tomahawk’s profile was chosen to mark all North Dakota state highways. It is displayed to show all travelers that a friendly Lakota was safely guiding them.

Who is this friendly Lakota, Red Tomahawk? He is best known as one of the Standing Rock police that shot and killed Sitting Bull.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation faced complaints and threats of lawsuits over the signage, according to a recent MPR story. Plans are moving forward to have new signs replace the Indian silhouette with the outline of the state of North Dakota. It will take 10 years to replace all the signs.

The Department of Transportation says the possible legal action had nothing to do with its decision to change the signs. According to the story, “the change was done to pay tribute to the agency’s 100th birthday next year and get in step with other states’ signage.”

Whether or not that is the real reason for the change, the change is a good one.

Continue reading