Friday, January 2, 2015
January 2, 2015: End of Year Stories: Native Americans and the Keystone Pipeline
[While I don’t consistently cover current events in this space, I do try when I can to connect the histories, stories, and issues on which I focus to our contemporary moment. But sometimes it’s important to flip that script, and to contextualize some of those contemporary connections. So this week, I’ll do that with five ongoing American stories. I’d love to hear your thoughts, on them and on any other current stories!]
On one of my favorite recent moments, and the inspiring story behind it.
Most of my end of year stories in this week’s series have been pretty dark and depressing, I know. I can’t say that doesn’t feel accurate to the state of the nation and world as 2014 turns into 2015; but I can say that it’s definitely not accurate to my perspective and voice. I’m the guy whose forthcoming book is entitled Hard-Won Hope and whose subsequent project will be a book and website called the Hall of American Inspiration, for crying out loud; I pride myself on being able to find reasons for optimism even when the darkness seems darkest. So it seemed important for me to end this series with a moment and note of such optimism, and luckily late November featured a national event that exemplified for me some of the best of what American has been and can be.
The event itself wasn’t particularly striking, if an unexpectedly positive political result: just enough Senate Democrats voted against the proposed Keystone Pipeline to keep it from passing the Senate. President Obama would almost certainly have vetoed that bill in any case, but nonetheless, again, an unexpected bit of good news (for those of us who oppose the Pipeline) in a depressing political season. But what I’m really focusing on here is a moment in the immediate aftermath of that vote: Greg Graycloud, a Lakota Native American from South Dakota, began chanting in celebration of the bill’s failure. The chanting was alternately described in most news coverage as “singing,” “heckling,” or “protest”; but it was really something much more ceremonial and spiritual than that, a moment of formal, communal celebration on behalf of all the Native peoples who have been working for years and continue to work (both in Canada and in the U.S.) in opposition to the Keystone Pipeline.
The political victory was likely short-lived: the reconfigured Senate will likely pass a Keystone bill in January, and I’m not at all sure that President Obama will veto it (or even that there won’t be enough votes in the Senate to override a veto in any case). As my FSU colleague Ben Lieberman consistently reminds me, the ongoing climate change news is thoroughly dispiriting in any case, and won’t be reversed even if Keystone is permanently defeated. But I’m an AmericanStudier, and one especially interested in our national narratives and images, in our collective memories and identities and community. And in that role and those perspectives I find tremendous power and inspiration in Greg Graycloud’s chant, in the activism it represented, and in the determination of Native American communities to continue to fight for the lands and communities of which they are as much an integral part as any of us (if not, indeed, more so). Let’s make sure to remember all those things as 2015 gets under way, okay?
December Recap this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Other current events you’d highlight?