What's going on in North Dakota is ultimately the story of America from its earliest episodes with the invaders from Europe to today. It's a microcosm of colonialism and dismissal of the Native Peoples, their interests, their concept of the universe and the place of humanity on the earth. This is pretty serious stuff, and it is the stuff of conflict between Euro-Americans and Native Americans (who we here in New Mexico call Indians as they typically call themselves, but that's another story for another time).
It's a conflict that should never have been.
So often, Natives have had no real issue with Euro-invaders -- so long as they behave in a decent and cooperative manner. The problem has been that so often they don't. It appears that in many ways, they can't.
They think they have to dominate, exploit, destroy or... what? What will happen if they don't? They can't know because so many won't let go of whatever impulse for domination and destruction drives them.
Note, they still call this need, this impulse "Progress."
The Indians say, "No, this is not really 'progress' at all. It's simply a fury of destruction. Why do you do this? What is wrong with you?"
It's customary among "concerned" white people to almost worship Natives as some sort of exemplars of a Paradise Lost. If only whites could be more like the First Peoples in the Americas, how much better we all would be. Yes, that's all well and good but it presumes lack of agency and contemporary ways of life among the multiplicity of Native Peoples throughout the Americas. They are all supposedly driven by their Native Culture(s) -- thought of as a unity -- to be One With Mother Earth, yadda, yadda, in a primitive but righteous understanding of the basic elements of life, elements long forgotten by the Euro-invaders and colonists.
Well, no. This point of view kind of drives me nuts. Indians and Native societies have been so disrupted for so long by the invader-colonists that what the invaders think of as the "primitive" -- permanently primitive, mind you -- righteousness of Indian life and lore is mostly white-folk fantasy of Indians and their cultures and societies.
Indian societies were never perfect by any means, nor did they necessarily live in Paradise(s). The disruption and destruction caused by the invader-colonists -- including genocide -- left a remnant Indian population, one that had fallen so steeply that in the early part of the 20th Century, scholars and politicians and much of the popular media were convinced that the Indian Peoples would shortly become extinct.
Thus an all-out effort was undertaken to "preserve" what could be saved of ancient Indian culture and society for later scholarship and consideration (by Anglo scholars, of course) before all the Indians were gone.
I have friends a few years older or younger than me who believe -- some passionately -- that Indians are a "dying race," that the few pitiful survivors are drunks, drug addicts or criminals, that they all live on reservations where everyone is dirt poor, but where, somehow, the ancient ways and beliefs are preserved intact by medicine men and history preservers, and that those ways and beliefs are -- somehow -- intrinsically superior to those of the invader-colonist-destroyers.
I sometimes try to tell them they believe in a fantasy of Indians, one that has a long history but is basically false.
Indians are not a dying race, for one thing. They reached a low point in population over a century ago and have been on the rebound ever since. Most Indians do not live on reservations, most are not drunks, most are not dirt poor. Quite a few have been de-tribalized, even de-racialized and de-culturalized. They're not quite "white people," but they're not "Indians" in the sense that white people often think of Indians, either. They're somewhere in between.
Indian societies continue relatively intact in isolated pockets where the colonist-invaders were not able to overwhelm and suppress them, but not generally. Some Indians have as much of a fantasy view of their own cultures as many white people do, and some Indians deliberately adopt whatever white folks believe that Indians believe. Other Indians have a deep-seated understanding of their own Native cultures which they cannot and do not share much of with outsiders (not just with Anglos, but with other Indians as well). In other words, the invader-colonists as well as other tribes may never know what these other Indians know. Ever. It's not so much a secret as it's just not shared -- nor is it in some cases sharable.
Much of contemporary Indian society is not traditional or primitive at all. It is in many cases a cobbled together hybrid of limited ancient understandings and a modern (ie: culturally, socially, and economically indistinguishable from the dominant society) way of life. That's probably the way most North American Indians live today.
On the other hand, we have what's going on in North Dakota -- which strikes me as one of the most unifying means of expressing a spiritual understanding of the proper relationship of humans and the earth according to long-held tribal beliefs, beliefs adapted to the contemporary world.
This is not ancient or primitive, this is now.
There are thousands gathered near the pipeline route in North Dakota, Indians and their allies alike, to bring to bear the power and authority of a deeply rooted Native spirituality against the power and authority of crass materialism. Anti-spirituality if you will.
From a practical standpoint, this pipeline is essentially unnecessary and is ultimately a waste of energy and resources. It's dangerous in that it can -- and likely will -- leak oil into water supplies, whether into the Missouri River or elsewhere along its route. A point has been made that this risk is somewhat less than the current method of transporting oil from the Bakken Fields to refineries by rail, on what are colloquially known as "Bomb Trains," but that diverts attention from the fact that none of this oil needs to be extracted or transported at all. The use of petroleum is declining in the United States. Oil is often sold for less than the cost of production and transportation as it is, and many people have pointed out that it is likely that this oil will be transported and exported, because there is no real need for it in the United States, no market as it were. Consequently, the whole project is in essence a boondoggle, not the first nor the last in the petroleum industry, but one that has reached a kind of absurdity that few have before.
Even the unnecessary KXL pipeline (currently in suspension) was not as absurd as this one.
From a spiritual standpoint, the Dakota Access Pipeline is a form of rape of the Mother, for no other reason than that its makers can do so. Spiritually it's wrong in every conceivable way. In the Judeo-Christian sense, it's a sin. A mortal sin.
Why is this being done? As an assertion of Power? Or is it something else?
This goes back to the origins of the invader-colonial society that became the United States of America (Inc.). Dominance and destruction are the key elements of that society, and when they are challenged or denied, as is the case in North Dakota, then the whole edifice trembles. We see this in the current overreaction of the North Dakota and pipeline authorities to the Water Protectors (love the name) and their actions. The National Guard has been called up. Arrest warrants for journalists and spokes people issued. Checkpoints established along the highways. A tightening protective cordon established around the camps and the pipeline.
Destruction-construction continues despite the denial of permits for construction under the lake that is in the way of pipeline completion. The pipeline will go as close as it can to the Missouri River lake (Oahe) that's in the way until the permits and easements are issued. I don't think anybody doubts that.
It's almost certain that the permits and easements will be issued, it's just a matter of when.
But the actions of the Indians and their allies in North Dakota against the construction or completion of the pipeline have highlighted just how stupid and deleterious the project is. How essentially all of these pipeline projects are idiotic. The overreaction of North Dakota authorities to the actions of the protester/protectors has highlighted how stupid and deleterious the civil authorities have become in their zeal to protect the project at all costs.
This has a cumulative effect, much as civil rights and anti-war actions did back in the day, much as many other forms of activism continue to have.
I suspect that the pipeline will be completed almost on schedule, but the ultimate result will be disastrous for its builders and operators. The shame of it is one thing. The lack of need for it will be something else again. And finally, when it does break or leak, which it will, I suspect it will be quietly shut down, and eventually the Indians will be vindicated. "They were right."
Isn't that already obvious?
But in the meantime, the Overclass MUST dominate the Lesser People or risk its own extinction. They dare not stop now, oh no. They must continue to the bitter end. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.