Objections to New York Times Op-Ed

Tiffany Midge

There is taking responsibility for one’s circumstances and then there is outsourcing responsibility for one’s circumstances, just as there is acknowledging injustice without imposing judgement upon legitimate victims of circumstances, situations beyond one’s control. Or in other words, victim blaming. A term we’ve come to know, particularly in regard to sexual assault: the victim had it coming, they asked for it, their clothing choices invited the assault.

This was my takeaway upon reading David Treuer’s opinion piece last Sunday in the New York Times, “An Indian Protest for Everyone.” Treuer stated “The Standing Rock Sioux tribe chose not to fully engage with pipeline officials until late in the process.” Um, okay, that’s beyond the point, unless it is meant in the spirit of sensible advice, or tough love—and even then, it seems patronizing.

Treuer went on to write, “It absolves our tribal leaders of their reluctance to show up for meetings and to fight diligently and thanklessly in the trenches of numb process.” Okay. Fair enough. But again, how is this relevant? Is this helpful? Let’s look at it this way: In the late 1800s, let’s suppose that the government send out invitations to negotiate land claims prior to the Wounded Knee Massacre, and let’s suppose the Indian leaders had gone to the trouble to put in an appearance to those meetings, perhaps Wounded Knee could have been avoided.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I don’t understand Treuer’s intent or logic. Wait—Indians don’t have to all agree with each other, right? Indians should have the leeway to disagree with each other? Maybe that’s the point he’s trying to put across here—a challenge, which I’ve clearly taken up by writing this op ed. But with human rights and environmental justice, lives literally at stake, maybe this isn’t the time to axe grind and point blame. Still, with a platform as large and influential as the New York Times comes greater responsibility.

Treuer cited an article by David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, from a New York Times article published August 24. “Our tribe has opposed the Dakota Access pipeline since we first learned about it in 2014. Although federal law requires the Corps of Engineers to consult with the tribe about its sovereign interests, permits for the project were approved and construction began without meaningful consultation. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation supported more protection of the tribe’s cultural heritage, but the Corps of Engineers and Energy Transfer Partners turned a blind eye to our rights. The first draft of the company’s assessment of the planned route through our treaty and ancestral lands did not even mention our tribe.”

Did Treuer not see this section?

Where exactly did he glean information regarding “missed meetings?” I saw something on NPR about it and I read an article in the Orlando Sentinel, but it seems moot, now, plus it strikes me more as a smear campaign against Standing Rock, taken from the propogandist playbook, and it isn’t as if this serves as any precedent. Big Oil’s been pushing the little guy around for decades, so much so that even Obama’s hands are tied. Anyone half familiar with bureaucracy knows how underhanded its system to be. Take the Vogons from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” as a ringing example. Fiction, true, but perfectly, albeit lightheartedly, analogous.

Treuer used "protest(ers)" repeatedly and very deliberately in the article. Is he being disagreeable to the term already in use, the preferred nomenclature? Language is his livelihood so I can only draw the conclusion that he objects to “protectors” over “protesters.” This serves as another data point informing my overall impression.

Treuer took issue with the cowboys and Indians premise stated by Archambault: “But to say that the story of the Dakota Access Pipeline is another iteration of that old western story is to repeat the mistakes of past protests and movements. We situate ourselves in a position of powerlessness.” Were the Lakota powerless in 1868, during the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty? Should the Lakota be held accountable for some oversight on their part when the treaty was broken?

Standing Rock, NoDAPL, is an event on a scale which the world has never seen, and it has sparked universal awareness and attention towards the most critically urgent issues of our time. And all of this from a small, modest community forgotten by the world (except when Obama visited) who gathered together thousands of people with a unified purpose, and who are leading the world toward a great shift in consciousness. That should be celebrated, lauded. It’s remarkable and holds significant spiritual meaning for the entire world. Standing Rock is at the heart of it. My mother was born at Standing Rock. As was her mother, and so on. That’s meaningful to me. That’s my skin in the game, so to speak.

The people of Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin, and all of the protectors on the front lines who are fighting for environmental justice and demanding human rights deserve more than what Treuer’s opinion piece in the New York Times has offered. Perhaps Treuer is making a plea for us do better. But his tone seems neither sympathetic, nor particularly solidaritous. Standing Rock needs allies, not corrective measures and shaming.

Tiffany Midge is a contributor for Indian Country Today Media Network, and an assistant poetry editor at The Rumpus. Her work is featured in McSweeney's, The Rumpus, Okey-Pankey, The Butter, Waxwing, and Moss. She is Hunkpapa Lakota. Follow her on Twitter @TiffanyMidge

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