This Thursday, folks across the country will indulge in one of America’s most enduring and self-satisfying traditions: the injuring of Native American people and the destruction of land for financial gain.
Since April, Native American tribes have been gathering outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota to protest and push back against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), which, according to the New York Times is “a $3.7 billion project that would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil fields of western North Dakota to Illinois, where it would be linked with other pipelines.”
Near the land where the pipeline is being built—on the North Dakota and South Dakota border—is the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where residents say the DAPL is traversing and destroying their ancestral homeland (it would not run beneath the reservation itself, but has the potential to destroy burial grounds and other important spiritual or historic locations). Tribe leaders and organizers also argue that the pipeline could contaminate their drinking water if oil were to leak into the Missouri River. The conflict has brought together tribes from across America, as well as environmental and Native American advocates—all of them descending upon Cannon Ball to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their fight against government and oil company Energy Transfer.
In recent months, encounters between protesters, the oil company, and county police have grown increasingly tense and on Sunday, November 20, things—not for the first time—turned violent. As demonstrators pushed through a blocked bridge on a state highway, authorities attempted to quell the crowd with rubber bullets, tear gas, and the use of water cannons in subfreezing temperatures. Of the estimated 400 protesters there that night, organizers say at least seventeen were taken to the hospital. Many had hypothermia. One protester is at apparent risk of losing an arm after she was hit by concussion grenade.
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As violence was erupting, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department posted the following statement on their Facebook page:
Law enforcement is currently involved in an ongoing riot on the Backwater Bridge, north of a protest camp in Morton County. Protesters in mass amounts, estimated to be around 400, are on the bridge and attempting to breach the bridge to go north on highway 1806. Protesters have started a dozen fires near the bridge.
But “ongoing riot,” according to organizer Dallas Goldtooth, paints a misleading picture. “Folks have a right to be on a public road,” he said. “It’s absurd that people who’ve been trying to take down the barricade now have their lives at risk.” The fires, he adds, were small and ignited only to warm those who’d been sprayed by water in the 29-degree cold.
This is the oppressor attempting to paint itself as the oppressed, which should be familiar to all Americans. The very colonization of this country is built on white Europeans feeling sorry for themselves and angry at everyone else, especially those—like, say, the people who lived here first—whose existence stood in the way of what they wanted. The Indian Massacre of 1622, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Carlisle School in the late 1800s, Wounded Knee in 1890, the DAPL protests in 2016.
The liberal white guilt surrounding the colonization of the Americas has always been particularly phony, especially considering the continued mistreatment and marginalization of Native American communities in the United States. Do not let fear of enacting that phoniness lead you into guilt and despair, however, because as liberal white people have (most disappointingly) shown time and time again, those are useless feelings that ultimately makes one even more complacent. Instead, approach Thanksgiving in the spirit of the lie that it’s always represented: graciousness, the sharing of resources, the bond of humanity.
Currently, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is in need of and accepting donations in many forms. You can give money that will be used for “legal, sanitary and emergency purposes” here or here. You can find a list of organizations that are helping collect supplies to help get protesters through the winter here. If you, like a lot of people, don’t have money, you can contribute in other ways: sign the petition, call the office of North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at (701) 328-2200 and tell them you do not support the pipeline and will not stand for the abuse of protesters, call Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier at (701) 667-3330 and express your outrage at his violent treatment of citizens exercising their right to protest under the First Amendment, call the Army Corps of Engineers at (202) 761-5903 and ask them revoke the DAPL permit, sign a petition, and endlessly harass the Energy Transfer executives by voicing your disapproval. Here are some of their emails and phone numbers, courtesy of The Nation, to help get you started:
Energy Transfer Partners
Lee Hanse, executive vice president: (210) 403-6455, Lee.Hanse@energytransfer.com
Glenn Emery, vice president: (210) 403-6762, Glenn.Emery@energytransfer.com
Michael Cliff Waters, lead analyst: (713) 989-2404
Do one or more of these things (if you’re calling government or corporate offices, better call Wednesday or wait until Monday) that actually helps and you’ll be giving meaning to an otherwise meaningless holiday that’s rooted in oppression and violence. Keep doing them in the weeks, months, and years to come and you’ll become a genuinely useful human being.
When you sit down for dinner on Thursday, enjoy yourself, eat well, and laugh with your loved ones, but don’t forget about the DAPL protesters who are freezing in tents, eating rations, and sacrificing their health, comfort, and possibly even their lives in order to fight the seemingly endless battle to be recognized.