In order to truly understand the historical significance of the Standing Rock Water protectors fight against the pipelines, one must examine their history. Nick Estes walks the reader through Indigenous resistance throughout the history of white supremacist colonialism, and America's never-ending war on Indigenous people's lives, culture, and land.
In the first chapter, titled Prophets, Estes explores the Water Protectors movement and the Indigenous resistance.
"For the Oceti Sakowin, prophecies like the Black Snake are revolutionary theory, a way to help us think about our relationship to the land, to other humans and other-than-humans, and to history and time. How does one relate to the past? Settler narratives use a linear conception of time to distance themselves from the horrific crimes committed against Indigenous peoples and the land."
Here is a major difference in how American history shows events linearly, but Indigenous history conceives time differently. This paragraph, in a span of a few sentences, dissects the imperialist worldview of linear time, to show there are other ways of perceiving history and time.
"There is no separation between past and present, meaning that an alternative future is also determined by our understanding of our past. Our history is the future. Concepts such as the Mni Wiconi (water is life) may be new to some, but like the nation of people the concept belongs to, Mni Wiconi predates and continues to exist in spite of white supremacist empires like the United States.
"The protestors called themselves Water Protectors because they weren't simply against a pipeline; they also stood for something greater: the continuation of life on a planet ravaged by capitalism. This reflected the Lakota and Dakota philosophy of Mitakuye Oyasin, meaning "all my relations" or "we are all related." Water protectors led the movement in a disciplined way, by what Lakotas call Wocekiye, meaning "honoring relations." To the outside world this looks like "praying," the smoking of the Canupa, the sacred pipe, offering tobacco, ceremony, and song to human and other-than-human life."
Estes makes it clear in this first chapter that the Missouri river is "one such non-humans relative who is alive, and who is also of the Mni Oyate, the Water Nation. Nothing owns her, and therefore she cannot be sold or alienated like a piece of property." This being in good relationship with one's kin, including non-human relatives, is crucial to understanding the Standing Rock protest. Estes roots this protest in its historical context, of the past is the future, by exploring the history that led up to this moment in time.
Each chapter covers a different segment of this history. First chapter describes the siege against Water protectors at Standing Rock in present time. Second chapter delves into the origins of Indigenous resistance, which leads directly into the third chapter that covers America's unending war with Indigenous tribes. The fourth chapter covers the flood from dams that purposely flooded Indigenous lands, thus destroying and displacing them yet again and again. Chapter five explores the beginnings and impact of the Red Power movement, which flows into the sixth chapter on Internationalism where Indigenous peoples across the world work toward Indigenous rights and sovereignty on a global stage. The final chapter covers liberation and the integration of the Indigenous history shaping the future.
As Nick Estes writes:
"The continuing legacy of the Pick-Sloan dams also thwarts the possibility of a liveable future for the Oceti Sakowin and the millions of people who depend the Missouri River for life. The dams personify settler colonialism -- their concrete and rolled earth endowed with the will to disrupt, flood, dispossess, remove, and ultimately eliminate Native society. the Dakota Access Pipeline echoed this process. The full force of the settler state -- politicians, police, private security, banks, and private companies -- carried out the will of Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation building the $3.7 billion pipeline that would tunnel under the Missouri River twice, the Mississippi River once, and cross four states (South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois). Today, their tools are more sophisticated: assault rifles, arrest warrants, rural county jails, felonies, misdemeanors, body armor, armed drones, tear gas, mace, armored Humvees, the National Guard and state patrol, Black Hawk helicopters, Caterpillar earthmovers, and media censorship. But the Water Protectors draw from the history of the past Water Protectors who fought to protect the same relative, Mni Sose. While corporations take on legal personhood under current US law, Water Protectors personify water and enact kinship to the water, the river, enforcing a legal order of their own. If the water, a relative, is not protected, then the river is not free, and neither are its people."
As the state continues its siege on Indigenous personhood and sovereignty, we must rise up in solidarity and fight to return the land to Indigenous stewardship.
I highly recommend reading it in full to see the breadth of Indigenous resistance to American imperialism and colonialism. By understanding one's past and the current threat, we can better understand how to support the movement to end the capitalist colonialist imperialism white supremacy that threatens all life on this planet.
"For the Earth to live, capitalism must die.