Standing Rock is making its last stand. On Jan. 24, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to expedite the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,100-mile pipeline ferry that brings crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken Oil Fields to a processing terminal in Illinois. The memorandum instructed the Secretary of the Army to recommend that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers curtail the ongoing Environmental Impact Statement process and grant the easement to cross under Lake Oahe, the only water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.
On Feb. 7, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the easement. Then, on Feb. 16, a judge threw out a legal challenge by the Standing Rock Sioux calling for a temporary restraining order against construction; the tribe filed another lawsuit immediately afterward.
The improbability of a court challenge or protests by Water Protectors at Standing Rock halting the combined will of the Trump administration and a cabal of large financial institutions seems insurmountable. Yet the Standing Rock movement is greater than the success or failure—important though it is—of a single pipeline. The unprecedented organization and unity of the Native American community represents a spiritual and cultural resurgence, a foreshadowing of future resistance.
This is a new movement, led by women and the youth, making use of new forms of technology and communication to bring people together instead of driving them apart. But this movement is also rooted in a 525-year historical struggle against violence, theft, and oppression, and indigenous peoples draw strength from those roots for the future.
The callous lack of concern by both the U.S. government and the private sector for water, public health, treaty rights, and human rights is not new, but the cohesion of 562 indigenous nations is. The established mechanisms for indigenous nations to assert sovereignty over their ancestral lands in the U.S. have always been woefully underdeveloped. The National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act do have the necessary provisions to bring the United States into compliance with the international standard for indigenous rights, or the treaties the U.S. government made with indigenous nations, for that matter. The lack of legal channels for indigenous rights in the U.S. and Canada inevitably means that alternative channels of influence—like civil dissent—must be utilized.
Back in 2015, the Omaha, Dene, Ho-Chunk, and Creek Nations on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border organized against the Keystone XL Pipeline, presaging the resistance that would take place at Standing Rock a year later. And Standing Rock means that our indigenous nations will be battling Keystone XL a year from now—along with the Oak Flat mine, the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, and the border wall through Tohono O’odham lands, and many other transgressions of indigenous sovereignty over ancestral lands.
Standing Rock is only one part of a larger movement, a larger movement in the U.S. and the world for greater respect, dignity, and human rights. Standing Rock is unprecedented because of the universal participation of this continent’s vast diversity of indigenous peoples. Standing Rock is also a movement for all people, all citizens of the United States.
Everyone in the U.S. has a stake in this fight, whether it is clean water, sustainable economic development, global climate change, or equality. Everyone that has a stake is participating in this movement in some way or another. This history of the Native American struggle is inextricably linked with the history of the United States of America, and the continual struggle of Native Americans for their rights affects all of us.