I've cared deeply about Native American issues most of my adult life. Starting in my early twenties I began to seek out Native history and living elders who could teach me that history. There never seemed to be shortage of kind and generous people willing to share their culture with a kid from suburban NJ. who had, as far as I knew, mostly European ancestry. Leonard Peltier's struggle for justice is how I first got involved, and his fight for freedom kept me going to rallies and protests for many years where I got to meet elders who had a great influence in shaping the person I would become. I can never thank them enough for sharing their teachings and ceremonies with me and allowing me to stand with them on numerous occasions.
As I write this, Leonard Peltier hasn't yet been freed. I'm still hoping President Obama may pardon him. Now the Standing Rock resistance has been on-going for many months, capturing the attention of the nation and the world.
What always vexed me was how little interest most Americans seemed to have in Native people, and I only hope people's focus doesn't wane whenever this current crisis is over. Perhaps social media has brought everything to light with easy access or the specter of climate change underscores the importance of Indigenous people fighting fossil fuel infrastructure which threatens their water and sacred lands or the election of Donald Trump bringing a heightened awareness to the fight of so-called minorities against a brutal government imposing it's will--really, I don't know why this particular issue has become so well known. Perhaps many people are facing a moment of expanding consciousness--a time in world history representing a break from the sleepwalking characteristic of most of our modern existence.
The main lesson, I think, we should all take away is we are all Indigenous. Their struggle is also our struggle.
Even if we are immigrants to America, we have within our own DNA and collective consciousness the memory and vibration of once being people close to the land; even if that history is long gone, there is a resonance of a time when we were all Indigenous. The modern, technological society hadn't yet completely supplanted the tribal; our spirituality too was different before the advent of modern and more dominant religions, our values more closely aligned with the earth's seasons and our awareness more tied to the movements of the planets and stars.We lost our ground wire when we moved or were uprooted, becoming refugees or immigrants or whatever, but the tribal way is still alive in our deepest psyche.
A great teacher and popular Indigenous radio host named Raven once said to me, "if you were a lousy Catholic why do you think you'd be a good Lakota? Go and explore your own heritage. See what you find." What I found was a closer connection to the Indigenous people of this continent than I ever thought I would when I realized my ancestors were Indigenous to Europe, but his words also taught me why I cared so deeply about people like those at Standing Rock.
Being uprooted from the tribal mentality by the all-consuming-monolith of modern technologically-driven paradigms, completely disconnected from the Divine Feminine through rampant consumerism, violence as a way of life, mass incarceration for anyone who might challenge the dominant mindset--these are hard obstacles to overcome, especially if you've been uprooted from your ancestors.
I think of Leonard Peltier as a political prisoner, someone who ultimately took the heat for being part of a younger generation of Native people who were seeking to rediscover and to protect the ways of their elders, ways which had been forcibly taken from them by the US government. Leonard is a symbol of that part of us that has been hidden or crushed by modern civilization. He suffers directly, everyday. We may suffer in more subtle ways. There is no other way to explain his incarceration if not as a message to anyone else who would oppose the system. It didn't matter if hundreds perhaps thousands of people were killed by the US government agents on the tribal lands before Leonard's case ever came to trial. He was accused of killing two FBI agents in a shootout as government forces moved in to violently terminate a camp of people protecting their tribe, much like Standing Rock. He was made to pay when everyone else associated with the deaths of the FBI agents had been found not guilty.
So everything that is passed is now brought to the forefront again with the renewed interest in Standing Rock.
Oppressed groups often find a world of meaning in seemingly isolated or unrelated incidents because they know on a deep level, the incidents are related.
Native issues are again "popular" as a metaphor for government abuse--in this case people are angry all over the country that so little has been done to move us toward an economy based on renewable fuels, as opposed to rebuilding the fossil fuel infrastructure over and over. Fracking and other new technologies have made oil and gas very popular again because of their incredibly low cost, and this DAP is clear evidence of a future commitment to those fuels, and why so many people oppose it. There are millions and millions of miles of pipelines through the US, and no one would argue we've seen an energy renaissance, but how long will it last and is it sustainable? Are we really planning for the safety and well being of future generations by continuing to pursue fossil fuels?
Maybe the plight of non-violent activists seeking only to protect their water, a far more precious commodity than oil by the way, just speaks deep down to the buried brain of the tribal consciousness--maybe people just get it.
But let's not walk away after all this is resolved.
In native history you may also find your own.
A few good topics/books to start with are:
Leonard Peltier's story, see My Life is My Sundance by Leonard Peltier with Harvey Arden
Native American Boarding Schools
This Century of Dishonor by Helen Hunt Jackson
The American Indian Movement
Where White Men Fear to Tread by Russell Means