by Kelly Hayes
As the struggle at Standing Rock has escalated in recent days, with increased state violence, hastened pipeline construction, and the creation of a encampment in the direct path of the pipeline, I have watched widespread Native unity flourish. Friends, co-strugglers, and even long-time enemies, such as the Crow Nation and the Lakota, have strengthened bonds and created new alliances. The connective energy of this moment, both in terms of Native unity and cross-movement solidarity, has lifted hopes and armed imaginations in Standing Rock and in cities and reservations far from the frontlines.
As an Indigenous woman, who has twice made the journey to Standing Rock, staying connected with other Natives has been crucial to my stability during these uncertain times. People I love are in danger, and in recent days, it had become increasingly clear that the makeshift army, amassing near the camps, wouldn’t wait much longer to close in. With the pipeline burrowing its way under the the Mississippi River on Wednesday, and about 90% of the entire pipeline complete, the encampment Protectors had recently erected, in the direct path of the pipeline, would be targeted by the National Guard — and the seven state assemblage of other law enforcement officers — within a matter of days.
While my friends and co-strugglers at the camps were definitely concerned about the prospect of a raid, some said it was the waiting, as much as anything, that was wearing them down. Low flying planes were flying overhead each day, harassing the Water Protectors from above. More than a nuisance, my friend Desiree Kane described than ongoing sense of heartbreak, as she repeatedly saw the planes cause flocks of migrating birds to become disoriented and lose their way.
Not having experienced daily disruptions overhead, or the harsh winter that’s setting in at Standing Rock, I could only try to imagine what it would be like to look up at the sky, and watch those birds, who like us are Indigenous to this land, swept off their path by a form of state violence.
“But they always find their way back,” my friend Remy reassured me, as if he realized that a metaphor was taking shape in my mind that deserved interruption.
By Wednesday night, local new outlets were reporting that DAPL was 90% complete. So it came as no surprise when law enforcement made its move Thursday morning. The camps had been on high alert, and now, the moment they had been threatened with had arrived. The severity of the attacks — which involved beatings, pepper spray, the use of Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD), rubber bullets, flash grenades and sandbags fired at protesters — was shocking to many who watched the violence unfold on social media, but as someone who had been anticipating the raid, the attacks were sadly within the realm of what I had been expecting. With reports of Protectors who had locked themselves to heavy equipment being water-boarded and zip-tied into stress positions — both of which are internationally recognized forms of torture — I felt sure the police would want to make an impression. Having already borrowed nearly six million dollars to police the camps, local law enforcement may have easily deduced that another wave of bad publicity, on top of numerous other #NoDAPL related PR disasters, would be much less costly in the long run than leaving room for a post-raid resurgence.
But law enforcement entities will not decide the outcome of this movement moment.
The resilience of Native people, who have survived a centuries-long effort to bury us, both literally and figuratively, is unquestionable. Our peoples have not been this interconnected within our lifetimes, and many of us have also opened important dialogues at the intersections of struggles like #NoDAPL, and the fight for clean water in places like Flint, Michigan. Our resistance is growing and evolving, and while solidarity is messy work, we are working to build bonds that have never sustainably existed.
But perhaps the best evidence that hope is not misplaced in Standing Rock is the convergence itself. #NoDAPL is a physical manifestation of our potential. It is a wholly imperfect experiment, playing out in real time, but it is an undeniably revolutionary effort. On Thursday, a wall of police the length of a football field fell down on our people, and they made a powerful stand. Families danced in the streets and sang songs of freedom. Prayers were said and tires burned. From militancy to spiritualism, and the merging of both, we have joined together, in Standing Rock and beyond, to oppose an act of environmental violence. Our frontline Protectors have stood up to the violence of colonialism, and ushered in what could be a new era in the struggle to save Native lives, and perhaps the world itself. Such people should not be underestimated.
Want more from Kelly? Read her work in BGD’s newest collection, The Solidarity Struggle: How People of Color Succeed and Fail At Showing Up For Each Other In the Fight For Freedom.
Kelly Hayes is a queer Indigenous direct action trainer and a cofounder of the direct action collective Lifted Voices. She is community relations associate and a contributing writer at Truthout and her photography is featured in the “Freedom and Resistance” exhibit of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Kelly‘s analysis of state violence and movement work can also be found in the anthology, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? and the blog Transformative Spaces.