It is 2016, and oil companies have come to Lakota territory. It is not the first time, but this time, instead of the 7th Cavalry or Indian police dispatched to assassinate Sitting Bull, it is the Dakota Access Pipeline, the National Guard and the Morton County (N.D.) sheriff.
Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault was arrested by state police, with more arrests daily. I am watching history repeat itself, and wondering how badly Gov. Jack Dalrymple really wants that pipeline.
Will he sacrifice people, civil rights and the environment for this pipeline?
The land has a beauty that is unforgettable. If you close your eyes, you can remember the 50 million buffalo, the single largest migratory herd in the world. The pounding of hooves would vibrate the earth, making the grass grow.
There were once 250 species of grass. Today the buffalo are gone, replaced by 28 million cattle, who require grain, water and hay.
Many of the fields are now in a single GMO crop, full of so many pesticides that the monarch butterflies are being wiped out. In my memory, the old world remains.
The dams came
We remember the theft of land and the taking of the Black Hills, in 1877, a retaliation against Sitting Bull's victory at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. In a time prior to Native Lives Matter, great leaders like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were assassinated at the hands of police.
One truth: The Lakota people have survived much. As the Lakota attempted to stabilize their forced reservation society, the dams came.
More than 200,000 acres on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations in South Dakota were flooded by the Oahe Dam, forcing not only relocation but a loss of the Lakota, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara worlds.
The flooding destroyed 90 percent of timber and 75 percent of wildlife on the reservations.
That is how a people are made poor, an intentional set of federal and state policies, caused Native poverty. It is not that we chose poverty. Most residents of Standing Rock are below the poverty level. Lack of funding, a state that looks the other way and inadequate infrastructure, whether highways without shoulders, decrepit medical facilities, or inability to heat homes, kills people.
Are we all just supposed to suck it up?
Having spent four years doing time in the Minnesota regulatory process fighting the Enbridge pipelines, I am familiar with the white man's regulatory process.
That process excluded tribes. North Dakota's process is worse, and controlled by oil companies. The term is "regulatory capture." After all, oil pays the bills in the state. I get that, but the price is getting high.
Alabama of the North
Nationally, no one really noticed what was going on in North Dakota; until now. We all know that. People just flew over the state, and made fun of the movie "Fargo."
Unchecked, the governor has neglected public health, militarized the state, and cast a blind eye to putting dogs onto Indians, arresting journalists, and attempting to marginalize 5,000 people, calling us protesters.
I have to wonder why wanting clean water makes me a protester; and the intentional contamination of water by fracking companies, or corporate interests does not make those companies terrorists.
I can't see how this is going to work out well for the state. North Dakota looks like Alabama of the North. This looks like Selma.
The last time this level of militarization in our region happened was in 1973 at Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge. With 15 armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, flares, and 133,000 rounds of ammunition, the National Guard of five states; that was an expensive operation.
That was then, but we remember. And, now, we've got dogs, aerial surveillance, the National Guard, and arrests without bail.
Native people have a very good memory, frankly because history does repeat itself, and North Dakota, like other states, tries to forget us.
I am not sure how much North Dakota wants this pipeline. With rig count down 85 percent, and a landscape littered with abandoned man camps, why this line? In a country with crumbling infrastructure for water, sewer and energy (we have a D in infrastructure), why don't we send these pipes to Flint, Mich.?
Or make things work here?
Gov. Dalrymple, I ask the question you might ask as well: What would Sitting Bull do?
A hundred years ago he said: "Let us put our minds together to see what kind of life we can make for our children ..." The time for that would be now.