As efforts to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline grow, communities across the country are hearing from activists on their return from North Dakota and sending off fresh teams to lend support. The author believes that part of the support for the Standing Rock protests is a dawning consciousness that Native people have something important to teach us about living well on this planet.
On Sunday, November 6, in Redwood Valley, a tiny agricultural community in northern California known for its premium wine grapes and marijuana and its back-to-the-land ethics, cars spilled out of the parking lot at the local Grange and lined rural East Side Road in both directions for most of the afternoon. In an event sponsored by the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, several hundred people gathered to listen to activists report back from Standing Rock where they had stood in solidarity with Native American Tribes opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. In a kind of relay race that is being enacted across the country, the event was also a fundraiser for another team of local activists who will leave shortly for Standing Rock. I was there with my wife, Sherrie, who is Mihilakawna Pomo and Bodega Miwok, and comes from an activist California Indian family. In the 1970s, her father, Bill Smith, led a dogged ten-year struggle to stop construction of Warm Springs Dam, which ultimately flooded his tribe's homeland in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, a project that was sold to the public as flood control but which was actually designed to provide drinking water for development of Marin and Sonoma Counties, development which came, as promised, in a rush, and continues.
We were happy and surprised to see all the cars outside the Grange, but even still we weren't prepared for the standing-room-only gathering inside. Roughly two hundred people listened as local activists talked about their experience at Standing Rock, about the banks who are funding construction of the pipeline, and about the spirit of the people gathered in North Dakota to oppose it. Many more people came throughout the afternoon to eat a hot meal, listen to music, watch Native American dancing, and give their support.
It was the largest gathering of people for a progressive cause that I've witnessed in the nearly twenty years I've lived in progressive though sparsely populated Mendocino County. These events are vital, not only because they educate and raise funds, but also because they connect us to actions and issues that are bigger than ourselves and to the people most directly involved in them.
A week earlier, as most of the people gathered at the Grange knew, police and deputies from six states had turned violent when arresting 141 water protectors who had, only a day before, staged a camp on private land in the direct path of the planned Dakota Access Pipeline. If we've learned anything this year it is that it's ok to occupy federal land, but private property, perhaps especially if it is owned by a corporation spending a lot of money in your community, is another thing. Police shot activists, some of them children, with bean bags and rubber bullets, blasted them with pepper spray fired in thick jets from canisters the size of a fire extinguisher though meant to start not quench fires, assaulted them with LRAD sound cannons (long range acoustic devices), and wrestled them to hard ground, kneeling on their backs and binding their wrists with plastic zip ties.
Somehow, through all of this, almost all of the protestors remained peaceful, calling out to each other "Stand in your prayer," and holding their ground. And where they didn't remain peaceful, setting fires that burned a couple of cars, they were rebuked by the movement's leadership. In a statement made after the arrests, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II makes it clear that no form of violence by anyone is acceptable.
"Militarized law enforcement agencies moved in on water protectors with tanks and
riot gear today. We continue to pray for peace. We call on the state of North Dakota