Leadership Battles Within DAPL Opposition Getting Ugly, Camp Life Takes its Toll

Perhaps it should come as a no surprise, but the divisions within the No DAPL movement are about more than strategy; they are about leadership and it seems to be getting ugly. That could undermine the movement’s effectiveness.

We wrote yesterday about some of the strategic divisions within the No DAPL movement. David Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, has asked people to decamp while the tribe pursues legal actions against DAPL in court. Others, including Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project, want to continue a physical presence near the construction site. (Iron Eyes was one of 76 people arrested earlier this week for trying to set up a new camp on private land. Archambault said the move undermined the tribe rather than empowering it.)

An opinion piece in Indian County Today provides more details on these internal divisions.

The piece, Standing Down at Standing Rock, is moving. (Thanks to my friend Mary Turck for flagging this for me.) It provides a hint of optimism, pointing to what it called productive conversations between the Standing Rock Nation and the state. On Jan. 27, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum met with camp leaders and Archambault. “The five-hour meeting went well.” the piece said. “Good feelings were felt that a resolution is in sight, distant maybe, but it can be seen.” (However, details on what a resolution might look like are not defined.)

For the most part, however, the article lays open some of the rifts and hardships that exist in the Standing Rock community and in the water protectors’ camps. Here are three takeaways.

  1. Internal tensions could be linked to a leadership battle at Standing Rock between Archambault and Iron Eyes. The article described Iron Eyes as “a possible contender for Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.” The author, Ray Cook, opinion writer for Indian Country Today Media Network, clearly is an Archambault supporter. He writes:  “Anticipating the Chairman election run, a few hints of financial impropriety are being manufactured against the current Chairman. Which, if you know the current Chairman, you would know those accusations to be disgruntled hogwash.”
  2. The water protectors camps have affected the area’s Lakota residents. Law enforcement’s current Highway 1806 blockade closed “the fastest route to hospitals, stores and the rest of Standing Rock territory.” Members of the Cannonball District petitioned the tribal government “for relief from the camp and police presence.”
  3. Participation at the camp, while often described as a prayerful exercise, also has come at great personal cost. “So far, all I have seen is severe sacrifice. Long-term sacrifice that no person should have to tolerate. I know there are families at Standing Rock being weakened over this struggle … I see husbands’ and wives’ relationships, hundreds of miles distant, falling apart.

Cook makes this painful observation:

I look around the Standing Rock camps. I see the camps’ “leadership” at meetings, devising ways to “save the earth.” I see the hungry Native Machiavellis bite at the bit and stumble for the crown of leadership, rallying the people to sacrifice even more of their lives…to protect. Protect what? The earth? What a joke, when all the Earth needs of you is proof that you as an individual know her sacrifice and gifts to you.

Click here to read the full piece.

On the other side of the coin, a friend sent me a link to a Facebook page for 2017 Spirit-Led Activism & Advocacy. This recent post is highly critical of Archambault and efforts to close the camps.

I don’t have enough information to sort out the facts. I include these quotes to show how the movement is splintering. The person posting the following said he was sharing a report from people just returning from Standing Rock:

Standing Rock Update and rumor control (February 4th, 10:45pm)


We have been in camp all week collecting information face to face directly from camp coordinators and leaders in Oceti Oyate, Rosebud, and the new Black Hoop Camp. …

All camps agree that Dave Archambault and the SRST [Standing Rock Sioux Tribe] are corrupt politicians that have been bought and have bailed on the people that THEY called out to stand and help protect the water, land, and sacred sites.

So All camps are in unification on the stance that You should disregard all reports, announcements, and statements from Dave and SRST council. They have joined the side of the enemy (DAPL) out of greed and corruption and are no longer to be trusted, believed, or regarded as a credible source. …

Now more than ever, people are being called to camp. … Come prepared to resist and potentially be arrested. If you don’t come, this will be over! …

This seems like a legacy of colonialism. Some Native leaders try to work within the system (a system they have no reason to trust) to get a good outcome for their people, others will fight to the end. Personal motives get judged. Should-be allies are seen as enemies.

It is difficult enough to stop the pipeline, healing such internal divisions is daunting. I do not know what the truth is here. As you are inclined by your tradition, say a prayer for healing.

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