“What do you do with a victory?” asks respected writer, Rebecca Solnit, after the historic decision by the Obama Administration to not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline over Lake Oahe over the weekend.
The decision came just after thousands of veterans had arrived at Standing Rock to lend their support to the First Nations and if possible to form human shields against the violent tactics being employed by the state security.
Instead of packing their bags and heading home, yesterday the veterans undertook part in an emotional forgiveness ceremony at Standing Rock.
Over the last few months, as the news of the Standing Rock protests have spread across the globe, people have realised that the protest was never just about a pipeline, it was always about so, so much more.
It was about the right to protect clean air and water; it was the right to protect ancient burial sites; it was the right to fight for a future for our children and grand-children. It was a belief that we can live in a world without oil. But it was also a battle against oppression and colonisation against First Nations that has being going on for centuries and where the wounds run old, raw and deep.
And in face of unprecedented violence by the state, the protests had to remain non violent. “Throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner – and that is how we will respond to this decision,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, Dave Archambault II over the weekend.
And yesterday, in the aftermath of victory came another great moment in the amazing Standing Rock journey. There was a reconciliation ceremony for some 500 people with veterans taking a knee and asking for forgiveness. The veterans were led by Wes Clark Jr., son of retired U.S. Army general and former supreme commander at NATO Wesley Clark Sr.
“Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years”, said Clark. “We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain.”
He continued: “When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”
In response, Chief Leonard Crow Dog offered forgiveness.
The ceremony brought many to tears. Jon Eagle Sr. Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recalls how “I witnessed something powerful and profound today. Wes Clark Jr and the assembled veterans took a knee and collectively asked for forgiveness for the genocide and war crimes committed by the United States Military against tribal nations in this country.”
As the “Native Veterans filed through the ranks, shaking hands and giving each other hugs, there were alot of warriors with tears in their eyes.”
Yesterday was made possible by the courageous resistance by First Nations against the Dakota Access Pipeline. That fight is not over yet. It continues.
As Rebecca Solnit notes: “The movement at Standing Rock may yet stop a pipeline. Whether it does or not, it has brought together perhaps the greatest single gathering of native North Americans (from Canada as well as the United States) ever, and that has been a profound and moving watershed for the affirmation of cultural identities and political rights.”
We are going to need to protect those rights in an even greater way in 2017 as we face the prospect of an oil-loving, climate denier in the White House. We are going to need all the friends we have. We are going to have to stand in solidarity.
And if we are to stand together in struggles of the future, we have to first heal the wounds of the past. Just like they have done at Standing Rock.