Facing the Black Snake

Terri Miles

It all adds up and becomes more. At one point this past spring the Camp of the Sacred Stones consisted of approximately 100 people who wanted to protect the waters. The camp is named after the sacred stones that used to come from these waters, but are no longer created because the Army Corps of Engineers disregarded indigenous values.

Lewis and Clark passed this way on October 18, 1804, and Clark wrote in his journal “above the mouth of the river Great numbers of Stones perfectly round with fine Grit are in the Bluff and on the Shore.” After these stones, the French trappers (who had been the only white people around) called the river Le Boulet, which Clark translated Cannonball.

The sandstone concretions that name the river are generally less than two feet in diameter but have been reported as large as ten feet. Their geometric perfection has spiritual significance to the Native people in the area, but that significance was lost on the Corps of Engineers dredges, which disrupted the unique currents necessary to produce the sacred stones.

Running roughshod over Native beliefs, threatening the drinking water—it all adds up and becomes more, more than the people can tolerate. As the river used to produce the sacred stones, the threats to the river have produced the Water Protectors.

The actual number of Water Protectors now depends on which report you read. Looks like anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000, but then again numbers are used as a way of mitigating or at least obfuscating. 65,000,000 dead in over 500 years of invasion and genocide or is it 1,000,000? Always here to 45,000 years of living on the land or is it “only” 12,000 years?

The moral calculus does not improve by disputing the exact numbers. Right now, here at Standing Rock we have oil billionaires locked in political combat with the poorest people in the United States. What matters is what happened and how that shapes what is happening. It’s hard to know what will happen, but I’m here to tell you the people on the front lines don’t much care for calculating the odds. They did not choose the time or the place but the time is now and the place is here.

Native people are uniting. Native Nations are in solidarity with the people of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. the Muscogee (Creek), the Sac & Fox Nation and the Meskwaki Nation along with over 90 others so far. Allies from all walks of life. Semis, caravans, and individual cars of food, camping supplies and water are arriving every day.

Buses of elders, veterans, men, women, and children are arriving along with horses and their riders, singers and drums. Children have run to DC with messages to the President who promised help.

Those who can't travel hold fundraisers and local demonstrations. People who have inspired Native peoples, fought for and written about Native issues in their communities are at the camp: Billy Mills, Winona LaDuke, Dennis Banks. Facebook posts, blogs, Native news media, and Twitter (Sherman Alexie and Jason Namakaeha Momoa) are filling the vacuum of silence left by a public that is unaware.

Canadian energy giant Enbridge, Inc. and North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple are compromised.

They managed to get the Army Corps of Engineers to take short cuts and to ignore recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Historic Preservation. The name was changed to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Shouldn't that have confused everyone enough?

It's not called Keystone XL anymore. It no longer crosses the international boarder and it’s being built in little separate sections. What more can be done to force the Black Snake through? They tried using the police. Sent them to arrest the men and women standing against a private corporation.

That only sparked outrage and started the wave of support to the Water Protectors. How could it not? How can anyone watch the videos of the arrests and not feel the need to do something?

For me, it was seeing a person walking away from the police being tripped and taken down. I watched it over and over again. Watched that person fall flat on the ground with the officer on top.

That hurt, hurt the person, hurt people who watched...maybe hurt the officer who was told to do it. There have been reports of officers leaving, not coming in, and showing signs of respect toward the Water Protectors.

The people continue to practice their ways of being. They offer water to the officers. The workers and officers have moved back to a blockade to the north. Perhaps the authorities realized their tactics only draw in more support for the Water Protectors and more eyes on the issue.

They prevented anyone from heading south along the 1806. They didn't blink an eye when I passed through heading north, leaving in an empty car, filming them.

My favorite video shows people of the Great Sioux Nation on horseback "greeting" the police line. That picture made it onto the front page of The New York Times. I'm hoping someone makes a poster, something people can hang on their wall to look at daily and feel good when this is all over. While we wait for the next time.

A transnational corporation here, a state government there---it all adds up and becomes more. There will be need for more people to put their bodies in the way of the Black Snake until it slithers back to the corporate boardroom where it was born to report that we are still here and we are still powerful.

Terri Miles is a Muscogee (Creek) citizen, Sac & Fox family member, and Seminole descendant. Born and raised in Chicago, she moved to Bloomington in 2006 to pursue a Ph.D. in criminal justice. She volunteered at, held various offices with, and created programming for NAGSA and FNECC. She currently works for a social service agency in Bloomington. 

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