The threat of a new oil pipeline snaking its way from western North Dakota to refineries on the shores of Lake Superior prompted a summer filled with road trips through the vast grasslands of the Midwest. The result was a series about the pipeline and the people and ecosystems in its path. Searching for the Sandpiper was an exercise in investigative reporting, but in the end I realize it lacked something of critical importance. What was missing was a point of view that included the Native American sense of time, place, and spirituality that is almost impossible for outsiders to access.
When Winona LaDuke asked me to take a look at a piece she wrote for Indian Country Today this week, I knew immediately that her perspective needed an audience that Indian people often have difficulty reaching. Unspeakable Poverty of Loss: Intergenerational Trauma and the Bakken Oil Fields, is an elegy to a people on the brink.
It was not enough that the United States stole a homeland and forced tribes onto reservation at Fort Yates and Fort Berthold. Now, big oil is assaulting sacred lands with pipelines and fracking. Corrupt tribal leaders are buying mega-yachts to ply the waters of Lake Sakakawea while they wine and dine politicians and oil company lobbyists.
1954 Garrison Diversion project, which submerged a people under Lake Sakakawea, taking 152,000 acres of their best land. The dams drowned their villages, drowned their agricultural wealth, drowned their history and rewrote it in America's manual of agricultural progress.
There was no place for a white outsider to challenge tribal leaders, but LaDuke ably steps up to the plate and exposes the folly, corruption and greed.
I wanted to write a story about strength and resilience. I wanted to write a story about the singers, the horse people, and the earth lodge builders of the Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara peoples, the squash and corn, the heartland of agricultural wealth in the Northern Plains. That's the story I have been wanting to write. But that story is next. The story today is about folly, greed, confusion, unspeakable intergenerational trauma and terrifying consequences, all in a moment in time. That time is now.
She writes about the things I avoided. She tells the story about the court case involving a massive land swindle at Fort Berthold that reads like a John Grisham novel.
One would think that LaDuke would have complete access to the world that white writers inhabit. Her voice speaks loudly and clearly, but I believe we are not listening.
The Native voice is unique and teaches from a spiritual heritage that is beyond our understanding. Generational loss is real. It is not an abstract concept.
So, realizing that no matter how many trips I take to sacred lands, no matter how many times I speak with tribal elders; I will never have the ties to earth, wind and sky that resides in the hearts of native peoples.
So I am offering part one of LaDuke's three part series on oil, fracking and spiritual loss here as part of a co-write for OpEd News. I've edited it a bit to earn co-writer status and to provide brevity for this space. But, what follows is straight from the heart and mind of Winona LaDuke. Please read it and absorb the deeper meaning. If it moves you to learn more, you can follow the rest of her series at Indian Country Today.
Winona LaDuke writes: