C: Rob Wilson Photography
C: Rob Wilson Photography

“Where is our breaking point, at which we say that the benefits do not outweigh the human cost?” asks Eric Martin, a doctoral candidate in theology at Fordham University in a powerful polemic in the New York Times on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Martin asked “Do we wait until the Missouri River flows with oil?”

No we don’t, because the breaking point has long been passed.

The only way to understand what “breaking point” really means is to be on the front-line of the protests at Standing Rock. But even witnessing events from afar, we know that the authorities have crossed the line in so many ways. We know that the line is broken, long shattered into tiny fragments that will haunt America’s consciousness for a long time.

Fights over pipelines are never just a fight over moving oil from A to B. The fight over Dakota Access is so much more. It is a 21st century fight to protect clean air, water, and sacred burial grounds. It is a fight against colonizing powers that has been going on for centuries. It is a fight for the climate. It is a protest against a pipeline whose oil can never be burnt if we are to try and keep global warming to acceptable levels. It is a fight for justice, self-determination and the right to live in peace. It is a fight for our children and their children.

It will be seen as one of the defining struggles in the dying days of the hydrocarbon age. And against all the odds, the First Nations leading the fight against the pipeline have made it so.

We have to put it in context too. It is the latest chapter in the brutal history of oil. The history of the oil industry is littered with wars, conflict and brutality. The oil industry and its allies all too often resort to violence to try and get what they want.

The more they use violence, we more we have to use non-violent resistance. The more they use brutality and bullets, the more we use computers and the power of the pen.

Julian Brave NoiseCat, an enrolled member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen, noted yesterday:  “The cowboys may have outgunned the unarmed Indians, but they are being outwitted, outflanked, and out-strategized by a massive, transnational, indigenous-led movement. Facebook Live is their primary media channel, but stories about the water protectors are jumping across the divide from social to mainstream media, appearing in the New York Times and on CNN and Saturday Night Live. Support is growing.”

The people perpetrating the violence will move on, grow old and hopefully live with regret. But words do not grow old. They grow wisdom.

A poem written by Ben Okri for the Nigerian writer and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was murdered due to his campaign against Shell in 1995, still rings true over twenty years later: The poem says in part:

“Only the unnaturals,

Can live so at ease,

While they poison the lands,

Rape her for profit,

Bleed her for oil,

And not even attempt,

To heal the wounds”

The wounds from the Dakota Access Pipeline now run deep, both physically and mentally. You cannot attack people with water cannons, sound weapons, stun grenades, dogs, pepper spray, base-ball bats and truncheons without knowing that you are going to inflict casualties. You are going to cause wounds. You are going to inflict life changing injuries.

We now have Vanessa (Sioux Z), who has been on the front line fighting DAPL since September. Just over a week ago, she was shot in the eye with a tear gas canister from just six feet. This seems not to be an accident as it was aimed directly at her face by a Morton County officer. She now has a detached retina and needs surgery to ensure her vision. There is an online appeal for funds to help her.

We also have Sophia Wilansky, aged only 21, who was hit by a stun grenade and may lose her arm as a result. “The best-case scenario is no pain and 10-20% functionality,” says Sophia’s father of the extent of her injuries.

In the same night that Wilansky was injured, so were 300 others, with 26 hospitalised.

Many others have been jailed for minor offences. And that is where you see the more insidious violence, perpetuated by the state. Prairie McLaughlin says she has daily flashbacks – “daymares” – about the police after she was forcibly strip-searched in jail

Caro Gonzales, a 26-year-old member of the Chemehuevi tribe, another activist who was jailed complains of being “brutalized and dehumanized” by the authorities.

The wounds are set to get even deeper too.

The latest flashpoint will come as the authorities say they plan to close the campsite where many of the demonstrators have been staying.

In response to the statement –  issued cynically by the Obama Administration on so-called “Black Friday” –  the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe noted this decision “continues the cycle of racism and oppression imposed on our people and our lands throughout history”.

A coalition of grassroots groups also criticised the move because it “further empowers and emboldens a militarized police force that has already injured hundreds of unarmed, peaceful water protectors, and continues to escalate its tactics of brutality against us. It adds fuel to the fire of an ongoing human rights crisis.”

The groups called on the White House to “put an end to the violence.”

Defiantly, they added: “We will stand our ground for the water and the unborn generations. Our fight is not just about a pipeline project. It is about 500 years of colonization and oppression. This is our moment, a chance to demand a future for our people and all people. We ask you to join us”.