Standing With Standing Rock And Checking My White Privilege

I have watched with dismay as the mainstream media begins to pay more attention to the DAPL protests in my homestate, dismayed not that they are covering the protest, THAT is long overdue, but that it’s only happening at the same time that violence is playing a larger and larger role in these peaceful protests.  Coincidence?  Probably not.

Let me clear.

I am not an expert on this subject.  I do not claim to be.  I am however an activist for human rights.  I am a girl that grew up in North Dakota near Standing Rock and alongside Native American culture; summer visits to Ft. Mandan, pow wows at the reservation, and Native American kids sitting alongside me English or math classes.  My father and I took part in a YMCA promoted program when I was a little girl, Indian Princesses, where we met up with other white fathers and daughters to learn about native culture. We had Native American names.  My father was Thunder Moon, he burned the name and symbols into a leader patch that he wore around his neck as a necklace.  I forget my name but I can see my own leather name necklace in my mind.  We sat around in a circle on the floor, we put money for group activities like summer camping trips into a wampum purse each meeting, and we collected beads and fake bear claws to string onto our leather necklaces when we accomplished something – a little like Girl Scout patches. I am an American citizen that celebrated Columbus Day in elementary school as a public holiday in the 80’s. Even though there were no ‘Indians’ (as they were still called at that time by all the white people I knew) in my elementary school classrooms, I believed that the pilgrims and the Indians broke bread together peacefully because that’s the story I was told as a white descendant of European immigrants. Even though the reservation was just outside of town. I loved the Disney version of Peter Pan and even had the soundtrack on record, where Native Americans are called the ‘red man’ and walk around saying “How”. Amazingly it wasn’t until I left North Dakota that I understood colonialism as a global force in North America and Africa in particular.  It was only then that I understood that Columbus was not an intrepid explorer that should be celebrated, but a murderer and a villain to all native people that claimed a land that was already occupied. Longer still until I understood what cultural appropriation was, and I am appalled to see white girls dressed up as an indian princess. I am grateful that my go-to costume was Wonder Woman.

How is that possible?  How could I live so close to Native Americans and not share the same history of the birth of the country in which we both reside as citizens today? Two words. White privilege. History, through the history books we grow up reading and therefore trusting because it’s the history taught us in our public schools, is written by the winning side.  When it comes to the history of the land that we call North America, white people are the winners.

This is a people that historically we respect in terms of culture and in our visual storytelling.  Today, we need to recognize indigenous people everywhere as our first environmentalists. People that cared for the earth, protected it, and knew how to survive off the land sustainably and respectfully.  Sadly, we didn’t learn from them when we arrived.  Instead as new settlers in this land, we claimed it as ours, and then we overran them, killed them, penned them up in reservations, and placated them with treaties we never intended to keep. Meanwhile we dig up the earth for coal, drill for oil, and took over fertile prairie land and destroyed it for cattle grazing and factory farming.

When they speak up, a few hundred years later, is it any wonder we still aren’t listening?

Need a catch up?  Here’s one of the best summaries I’ve read about why and how things got to this point.  You read about land rights, oil, environmental concerns, tribal treaties, fracking, Army Corps of Engineers, permitting, corporate rights, and it gets confusing real quick.  More than one family member or friend has stated that Native Americans do not have a right to be protesting this because ‘the decision and permitting was already made’.  One of the key points from historical context that cuts through all the confusion?

Virtually every aspect of this 21st century jurisdictional train wreck has its point of origin in the U.S. Congress’ unconstitutional ‘taking’ of Indian treaty lands on the Missouri River with the passage of the Flood Control Act of 1944.  It only took half a century for Congress to finally admit, in 1992, that it had unlawfully neglected its trust responsibilities to the tribes with the approval of the Pick-Sloan Plan.  

I began sharing and posting stories this past spring, amazed to see the protest becoming a gathering of unity from multiple tribes, amazed further that their actions were not fully supported.  Soon it became the largest gathering of Native American tribes in over a hundred years, and the power of this unity was palpable.  I was moved as many of my friends on social media were and began to believe that perhaps the sheer numbers of this peaceful protest could focus attention on an issue all citizens of this country have a responsibility to fight.  The destruction of the earth for fossil fuels, focus on money instead of the environment and safety of our water sources.  We still didn’t listen.  Oil is money.  Money is power. No one is going to willingly step away from fossil fuels when there is money to be made.  Every time a train, boat, pipeline, or drilling rig spills oil, destroying land, polluting water, and killing wildlife, we shake our heads and yet collectively we accept it as a tragic by-product of living in the age of trains, planes, and automobiles.

Throughout this summer, I saw a few non-native friends from North Dakota speaking out, raising awareness, sharing posts and videos and several were going west to help out where they could.

I considered whether or not to go back to North Dakota to stand in solidarity with the protesters this summer, but unfortunately that  plan was derailed as I was hospitalized for a second brain clot.  As I begin to feel better, I now realize that even though I am now able to travel and have just recently organized two protests in Denver and NYC to combat rape culture, joining the protest as it stands now was not an option in regards to brain safety.  If I am not allowed to mountain bike or ski or do anything that could cause me to hit my head, getting fired at with rubber bullets isn’t an option.

So what to do? Because the simple fact is, these protestors are doing the work we should all be doing.  Yet I see white friends and family in North Dakota blaming the protestors for the violence and completely ignoring the bigger issue of environmental stewardship, land and water protection, and Native American rights.  Military level force and military grade hardware has faced off against the peaceful protests, dogs are released on protestors.  This is not a relational response of force.  Violence ramps up in response, as a means of standing ground, because if they go home, all is lost and this unity may never happen again.  What are we expecting they do? Go home and give up?  If we ignore the deeper story that Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, filmmaker Deia Schlosberg, and many others covering the story seek, we aren’t listening.  If we allow the suppression of free speech, at its worst when its coming from police and officials in North Dakota, we aren’t listening.   When the Bundy’s get off scot free for their armed takeover of federal land we can’t help but see that justice is not color blind.  Justice for indigenous people anywhere in the world is rare.  We still aren’t listening.

So what can we do.  If I, or you, or the collective WE cannot join the protest in North Dakota physically with these water protectors and protestors what CAN WE DO?  What can we do to stand in solidarity of Standing Rock and what can we do to create real action and support?

Here are several immediate options:

  1. Start Listening

Listen to Democracy Now reports which is some of the best in-depth daily coverage you can find.  Podcast it.

Google and watch TED talks by Native Americans.  There are several.

Watch this powerful history lesson TED talk by photographer Aaron Huey from 5 years of work at Pine Ridge Reservation.

  1. Sign the petition to Stop DAPL https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/stop-construction-dakota-access-pipeline-which-endangers-water-supply-native-american-reservations

 

  1. Donate

There are items listed on the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List:  http://sacredstonecamp.org/supply-list/

Winter is coming and the protest is not shutting down.  This is where we need to help immediately!

You can also Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp GoFundMe account:  https://www.gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp

  1. Use your Voice!

Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414 to tell President Obama to rescind the Army Corp of Engineers’ Permit for the  Dakota Access Pipeline.

Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand the reverse the permit: (202) 761-5903

Call ND Governor Jack Dalrymple at (701) 328-2200

Contact the banks that are directly funding DAPL!  They can choose what they support and who they give money to.  Yes Magazine just posted all 17 banks and their contact info!

Post, share, and comment on social media posts.  Help further the conversation.  Hashtags aren’t enough, but if you are active on social media – tag #IStandWithStandingRock

  1. Join Solidarity Protests Near You

You can find one here or create your own:  http://bit.ly/NoDAPLEvents

There is much more to come in the months ahead.  But this is a simple way to start.

To all the native protestors: For all those times I didn’t realize my white privilege when I was growing up in North Dakota – I am sorry.  For all the times that I didn’t listen enough – I am sorry.  For all the work I have done elsewhere and not alongside you – I am sorry.  I hear you.

#IStandWithStandingRock

 

Home Town Human Trafficking

I was honored to speak alongside Former US Attorney Tim Purdon and North Dakota state senator  Heidi Heitkamp at human rights conference TALK 2015 at the ND Historical Society.  The focus was about the epidemic affecting my home state, human trafficking.

I took the stage to speak to an audience filled with concerned citizens, including friends and family, politicians, and judges to speak about my own experience with gender violence and how it shaped my work in Afghanistan and how it resonates back home.  1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted around the world.  In America one woman every two minutes is raped.  We should be appalled by our lack of action.  In regard to the state’s emerging discussions about its human trafficking, and specifically its sex trafficking problem, I stated emphatically “It is not disparaging our communities, or our state, to discuss that human trafficking is a problem here.  It disparages our state when we deny there is a problem and thereby allow it to continue.”

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After lunch Sen. Heitkamp spoke about her efforts to fight human trafficking in DC and what the situation is for North Dakotans.  This is a mostly rural state that is family oriented and that is still catching up to the pros and cons associated with the oil boom that has rapidly transformed the state.  Heidi referred to Tim as the canary in the coal mine on the issue of human trafficking, sounding the alarm before anyone was aware of the issue.  Setting up sting operations with the FBI under the Department of Justice to place back page ads that promoted underage girls for sale for sex highlighted that this was a disturbing trend emerging across the state.  On one of the first stings in Williston, ND four men showed up at a hotel room intending to purchase sex with a 14 year old girl. Recently, a Colorado man was sentenced for trying to purchase sex with an 8 year old girl.  As Tim said repeatedly during his speech, “There is no crime more horrifying than sex trafficking.”

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My hope is that this conference, and others like it, will shed more light on the issues around gender violence, and human trafficking in particular, in North Dakota, and the people that are working on the ground to find solutions.  First we have to use our voice, then we can find solutions.

 

 

Hometown Book Signings

Its been a crazy two months of book signings since my memoir released with St. Martin’s Press in September.  Huge thanks to everyone that came out in New York, Portland, across Colorado, Moab, Chicago!  Your support has been phenomenal!  As the year comes to an end I see the final tour dates finalized with a 3 city stopover in North Dakota.  Going ‘home’ to the state I grew up in to talk about my memoir is fraught with mixed emotions.  Excitement to see family and old friends who have known me the longest, and apprehensive as I have written an incredibly personal book that details the journey I have had since leaving Bismarck.  The journey of an activist, and adventurer, and of a survivor of gender violence to a community that in some ways knows me best and yet doesn’t know me at all is going to be an experience all in itself!  Regardless, I’m looking forward to it and hope that my home state will come out into the snowy nights to support my book tour and my work fighting for women’s rights and against gender violence.  See you there!

Grand Forks Public Library, December 15

Fargo Public Library, December 16

Bismarck Public Library, December 17

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