What can EQAT learn from Standing Rock?

by Jay Bergen

On November 13th, I left Philadelphia to travel to Standing Rock for a week to support the water protectors, an experience I’m still reflecting on. Early last week, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would deny Energy Transfer Partners the needed permit to build a portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This decision has at least temporarily halted construction, while the Army Corps completes an Environmental Impact Assessment. The struggle is far from over, and indigenous media resources continue to be the best sources for current information. Right now, I want to reflect on what this moment means for EQAT and our supporters.

This victory could not have come at a better moment. The Army threatened to evict the thousands of water protectors in the Oceti Sakowin camp, one of three resistance cams, and the one which is located on land owned by the Army (after they forcibly took it from the Lakota people in violation of the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie). A few days after the Army made that threat, as a blizzard descended on the resistance camps, the governor of North Dakota cut off water supplies and refused to clear the roads of snow.

Every person who enters the Oceti Sakowin Camp (the largest camp at Standing Rock, and the one closest to the construction site) receives an orientation to camp life and what it means to respect the local Lakota people. In addition to specific protocol, such as how to respect the Sacred Fire at the center of the camp, non-native people are also asked to think about what it might mean to live into a new legacy, one that challenges settler colonialism. This means holding our existing legacy as settler people in one hand – theft of land, broken treaties, genocide – but also believing that we have the capacity to live differently. 

Living into a new legacy can look like US military veterans asking for forgiveness for centuries of theft and genocide while also using their presence to deter further military violence. It can look like solidarity actions to support Standing Rock, like ones here in Philly that EQAT members have participated in over the last several months. It can look like EQATers blessing blankets and other supplies to send to Standing Rock. 

I wonder what else this might look like? What other ways can EQATers show up for native peoples? How can we live into a new legacy? Most EQATers live on land belonging to the Lenni Lenape people, and our campaign has the capacity to affect the lives of Lenape and other native people who live in PECO’s service area.

After every newcomer to Oceti Sakowin receives their orientation, they attend a direct action training led by the Indigenous People’s Power Project. Through this training, thousands of people have learned how to be strategic in direct action and when facing serious police repression, something we can expect to see more of in the coming years. In fact, since the first resistance camp was set up in Standing Rock in April of this year, thousands of native people and non-native allies have shared stories and strategies. Tens of thousands of people have been trained in the skills needed to participate in a native-led resistance movement. They will ripple out from Standing Rock, and we will be feeling their waves for decades to come. 

This may be the greatest effect of Standing Rock, and a key way for EQAT to show up. As more people search for ways to resist Trump and take on the 1%’s death grip on our planet, we need to be sharing our skills with each other, learning how to listen, how to strategize, how to effectively take action, how to build coalitions. I am excited for EQAT to share our skills and practice listening to other movements. Now more than ever, we need each other. 

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