Star Phoenix – Doug Cuthand

On Feb. 22 the police moved in and the few remaining protesters at Standing Rock set fire to the temporary shelters and tents and left. A few diehards stayed on and were arrested.

So ended the biggest confrontation between Native Americans and the American government in modern times.

The Sioux community of Standing Rock and their supporters had stood their ground against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the plan to install a pipeline under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River.

The original route of the pipeline was to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck and travel to the east of the Missouri River, but that would have upset the good folks at Bismarck and the pipeline company opted to travel down the west side of the river, crossing it just north of the Standing Rock Reservation.

While the crossing north of Bismarck was much narrower, the river had been dammed south of Standing Rock and the river was a reservoir and much wider where they chose to cross. It would be more expensive and a bigger threat to the water supply, but the project’s proponents pushed ahead in the belief that the people affected were only a bunch of Indians and wouldn’t put up a fuss.

How wrong they were. For the last year, people have been camped at the mouth of the Cannonball River, just south of the proposed pipeline crossing. More than 300 tribes were represented, including Maori from New Zealand, Hawaiians, people from South and Central America and of course Canada and the United States.

I went down to Standing Rock last fall and I was impressed by the organization, spirituality and support that came from tribes all across the country.

In the U.S., the tribal leadership are normally quite conservative in their political action, but Standing Rock struck a note. It was apparent that if they didn’t stand together they would be picked off one by one. Truckloads of firewood arrived from the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin and the Cherokee Nation from Oklahoma and others; well off nations like the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians from Palm Springs donated $250,000 for legal defence.

While we were there, we witnessed a steady stream of donations of food arriving from other tribes across the country. We saw a truckload of food and clothing arrive from Alaska.

The week before we got there, some of the water defenders were attacked by security guards with dogs. These goons and their German Shepherds attacked peaceful, unarmed protesters, injuring many. The construction work had disturbed an ancient burial site and a sacred stone with the constellation Orion carved into it was missing.

The water protectors had established a camp on the site, blocking the pipeline’s advance. Later, the Obama administration requested that the pipeline operators select a new location to cross the river, but all that came to an end with the election of Donald Trump.

Two days into his presidency, Trump approved the Dakota Access Pipeline. This should have come as no surprise, since the state government is Republican, the state Representatives and Senators are all Republican and North Dakota Senator John Hoevan is the chairman of the Senate committee on Indian affairs, so they really had all their bases covered.

The media is now reporting that the Standing Rock protest is over, several protectors were arrested, and many left on their own accord, first burning their tents and structures. The camp is now abandoned and the cold winter wind blows over it. But before the gloating begins, pipeline companies and governments have to realize this is just the beginning.

The water protectors ignited a spark in the hearts of our people that will change the course of indigenous history. Our people now understand the power of their numbers and their spirituality. Standing Rock was not a failure and our people will regroup for the next assault on Mother Earth.

After the British halted the German attacks of the Battle of Britain, Churchill made a prophetic speech in which he said, “This is not the beginning of the end, it is the end of the beginning.”

This week we witnessed the end of the beginning.

Doug Cuthand writes a weekly column for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix