As DAPL Moves Forward, a Reflection on the Power of Words

Words matter.

The label “Sioux,” for instance, is a derogatory term meaning “snake” or “serpent,” derived from Anishinaabe and French words. (See this article in the Lakota Times.) Those in power were able to impose that term on Minnesota native peoples through treaties and reservation names. The term “Sioux” continues to be used for historical reasons, but it is not the preferred term for many.

The proper term for the people referred to as “Sioux” is Oceti Sakowin, (Och-et-eeshak-oh-win) meaning Seven Council Fires, according to the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center. It refers to the people of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota nations.

Oceti Sakowin also is the name of the main camp of Water Protectors trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, an effort that has brought native people together from across the country.

Names matter, like “Water Protectors.” Calling those opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline “protestors” buys into the story line that they are the ones causing problems. The term “protestor” not only carries the literal meaning of opposition, but in it conjures up a mental image of disruption and anger. The term “Water Protector” evokes a very different, more peaceful, image of people trying to save their land and water.

In this case, Energy Transfer Partners and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) are the disrupters and the protestors. DAPL has had the backing of a disproportionate, intimidating, and disruptive military response which has escalated the situation rather than calmed it. The pipeline project itself is disrupting the earth. It is disrupting the lives of the Standing Rock people. It is disrupting the rights provided to the Standing Rock Nation through treaties and agreements.

To that last point, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues issued a statement Nov. 4 saying the Dakota Access Pipeline is violating the rights of the Sioux people, and urged the U.S. government “to take urgent action and protect the traditional lands and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux and uphold their human rights commitments …”

The total lack of presence and action by the United States government, at the federal level, is a concern that must be addressed. … We call on the United States to take urgent action on the alarming situation in North Dakota, including the criminalization of indigenous peoples in their peaceful attempts to safeguards their human rights and fundamental rights.

This statement follows a three-day visit to Standing Rock area by Grand Chief Edward John, an expert member of the Permanent Forum. (Here is our earlier blog on his visit.)

The Nov. 4 statement also recommends the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination “consider undertaking an Early Warning and Urgent Action procedure.”

This puts us in unchartered territory. The United Nations has rarely, if ever, intervened in a domestic U.S. situation. One possible example comes for a 2016 New York Times article that said the Obama administration was turning to the United Nations to help screening migrants fleeing Central American violence. But the Standing Rock situation is different — putting the United Nations and United States into conflict.

And that conflict becomes more apparent with daily news updates, such as this one Friday from CBS: CEO confident Dakota Access Pipeline will be completed under Trump presidency. It says:

Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren is breaking his silence, as he faces mounting threats and lengthening delays. He remains bullish on the post-election future of the pipeline, which he says is already 84 percent done, reports CBS News’ Mark Albert. But about 1,000 feet are being temporarily stopped by the Obama administration.

“We will get this easement and we will complete our project,” Warren said …

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still needs to issue an easement to DAPL to drill under the Missouri River. Remember that there is a National Day of Action Tuesday asking the Corps to deny the easement. Details here.

One thought on “As DAPL Moves Forward, a Reflection on the Power of Words

  1. Thanks, Scott. This is the Museum I visit yearly with the Olivet group at Crow Creek just north of there a few miles. It is impressive. Nearby is the Dakota Indian Foundation and Gallery. Both are in Chamberlain, SD.


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