Like a well-trained soldier, when the call for veteran support for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota first went out, it got straight to the point.
“First Americans have served in the Unites States Military, defending the soil of our homelands, at a greater percentage than any other group of Americans,” the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock group posted on Facebook, referring to the great sacrifice Native Americans in military service have made throughout the history of this country. “There is no other people more deserving of veteran support.”
The claim isn’t far off, either. According to a Huffington Post article by Kevin Gover, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, “American Indians serve in their country’s armed forces in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group, and they have served with distinction in every major conflict for over 200 years.”
The Facebook group and call to action was put together by Wes Clark Jr., a former Army officer and writer from California, and Michael A. Wood, Jr., a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a retired Baltimore police officer who now fights to reform law enforcement. Depending on how far their message travels, Clark Jr. and Wood Jr. expect a few hundred veterans to arrive at Standing Rock over the next week, in support of the Dakota and Lakota tribes that make up the Sioux Nation, their rights, and their safety.
“This country is repressing our people,” Wood Jr. told Task and Purpose. “If we’re going to be heroes, if we’re really going to be those veterans that this country praises, well, then we need to do the things that we actually said we’re going to do when we took the oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.”
The eyes of the world have been fixed on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota for months now, as members of the Sioux and its allies have stood against the law enforcement and security contractors backing the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction.
The 1,170-mile pipeline, if completed as planned, would channel 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day under now desecrated sacred burial grounds, as well as Lake Oahe, the natural source of drinking water for the Standing Rock tribe.
Politicians, activists, journalists, and others have been arriving at the Standing Rock Reservation to document the clash and support the tribe throughout the ordeal. On December 4, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock will join the ranks.
According to StandingRock.org, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was originally established in 1868 as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, under the Treaty of Fort Laramie. It initially spanned lands south of the 46th parallel, bordered on the east by the Missouri River, by the Nebraska state line to the south, and the 104th line of longitude to the West. But as the Native Americans there have learned, time and again, their connection to the land is of little importance to the United States Government.
Article 12 of the Treaty of Fort Laramie provided that no cession of land would be valid unless approved by three-fourths of the adult males. Despite this, on February 28, 1877, the U.S. Congress annexed the entirety of the Black Hills, sacred lands to the tribes. The three-fourths consent of the Sioux was never obtained.
“A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history,” read a United States Court of Claims statement made in 1979, after the deeds of misjustice were placed under more scrutiny.
According to StandingRock.org, Congress’s final measure of reducing the Great Sioux Reservation divided it into six separate reservations, including the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Those boundaries remained intact since that time.
Current day members of the Sioux tribe are finding the DAPL ordeal to be all too familiar. When the Army Corps of Engineers assessed the DAPL’s proposed path through the Missouri River North Dakota in 2015, the Sioux were ignored as well. As reported in Task and Purpose, the Army Corps of Engineers was required to consult the Sioux under the National Historic Preservation Act, but failed to do so.
Despite admonishment by the American Council on Historic Preservation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Interior, the DAPL was nevertheless approved.
Of those who are gathering at Standing Rock, a great many of them have water on their minds. The Missouri is the main source of clean drinking water for those on the reservation, and an oil pipeline through that reservoir is no doubt a threat to its cleanliness.
“Mother Earth’s axis is off and it’s never going back,” Phyllis Young, a Sioux tribal elder told Task and Purpose. “And we have to help keep it in balance for as long as we can. I am a mother and a grandmother. Those are my credentials to ensure a future with clean drinking water — a future of human dignity, human rights, and human survival.”
The Water Protectors, a name many of the protestors at Standing Rock have gladly taken on, could be joined by 600 or more “deployed” veterans on Dec. 4 if the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock event goes as planned. And their assistance couldn’t come at a more crucial time, as reports from the reservation have shown evidence of people being sprayed with tear gas and fire hoses.
“If we don’t stand up for the oppressed, that’s the snowball that starts that leads to everyone else’s oppression,” Wood Jr. said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a libertarian, a conservative, or a progressive, this is everyone’s fight.”
The Veterans Site will relay the details from Standing Rock, ND as they develop. In the meantime, if you’ve ever wondered what Veterans Day means to those who didn’t serve, the next story may be of some interest. Click the button below to read more about this sacred holiday, and what it means to all Americans.
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.