Tuesday, December 27, 2016
December 27, 2016: 2016 in Review: Standing Rock
[As usual, I’ll end the year—even this most frustrating of years—by AmericanStudying a handful of major stories. This time featuring a special Friday Guest Post from one of the wonderful student papers in my Senior Seminar on 21st Century America! Please add your year in review responses, thoughts, and airing of grievances in comments.]
On two vital contexts for the year’s most impressive activist victory.
If the presidential election was 2016’s most frustrating political and social event, the protests at North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation were its most successful. The Obama administration’s decision to order the Army Corps of Engineers to find a new route for the Dakota Access Pipeline, one that doesn’t transgress on sacred Sioux land, might well be in jeopardy from the incoming Trump administration, not least because both Trump and his Energy secretary nominee Rick Perry apparently are connected to (or at least have at one time owned stock in) the pipeline’s parent company. But if that uncertainty means the fight will continue, that shouldn’t and doesn’t take away from the very successful fight that the Standing Rock protesters—including the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than a century, and many supporters who joined them in their efforts—already waged and won. In the face of nothing less than police brutality, including hoses being turned on them amid freezing conditions (among other violent assaults), these water protectors modeled the best of American activism.
The Standing Rock protests aren’t just a 2016 triumph, however—they also reflect, and can help us better remember, important and inspiring American histories. I wrote about one series of such histories, those of Native American activisms across the centuries post-contact, in this Huffington Post piece. I had the chance in that piece to highlight many of my favorite Native American activist texts and figures, from William Apess and the Cherokee Memorials to Sarah Winnemucca and Standing Bear. Standing Bear’s 1879 trial is particularly relevant to Standing Rock, as his activist voice and legal efforts secured a vital response and recognition from the federal government. But I would also highlight Apess’s amazing and brave “Eulogy on King Philip” (1836), a speech he delivered at Boston’s Odeon Theater and which he opens by arguing that the Wampanoag leader should be compared to George Washington, and that he “died a martyr to his cause, though unsuccessful, yet as glorious as the American Revolution.” If we could truly hear Apess there, truly see a native leader like Philip (Metacomet) as another kind of national founding father, we’d be a long way toward avoiding future Standing Rocks.
At Standing Rock, as in all these historical moments, native activists and leaders led the fight for their rights and sovereignty. But in each case, they were supported and aided by impressive non-native allies, from William Lloyd Garrison (who helped Apess and Mashpee achieve their 1834 legal victory) to Lewis H. Hopkins (the Bureau of Indian Affairs reformer who married Sarah Winnemucca and accompanied her on the Eastern lecture tour that helped sway public opinion and federal authority to the Paiute’s cause). The Standing Rock protests featured a number of prominent non-native allies as well, from celebrities like Shailene Woodley to political figures like Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein. But I would single out the group of military veterans who journeyed to Standing Rock to protect the water protectors, not only because of their courage in doing so but also and especially because it produced this truly stunning apology and moment. That ceremony, like many aspects of the Standing Rock protests, doesn’t only represent a model for American community and activism moving forward—it also echoes and extends, and can thus help us remember, these most inclusive and shared American histories.
Next 2016 review tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other 2016 stories you’d highlight?