Most of you have, no doubt, been following the events of the past few weeks at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.  What began with a few dozen Lakota and Dakota Sioux standing up to our extractivist economic system has grown into thousands of indigenous activists, and not a few descendants of their colonizers, occupying a protest camp and vigilantly guarding their sacred lands and waterways from damage and desecration by the Dakota Access oil pipeline.  Countless thousands more, across the country and around the world, are sending donations, marching in solidarity, pressuring industry and government.  This movement won a victory last Friday when the federal government paused construction on the section of the pipeline closest to the camp.

But unless many, many more of us act, this will not end well.

As of now, the larger system of extraction has the upper hand, and until something changes, it will continue to do so.  I see this in the language of the news reports that continue to speak with certainty about the pipeline’s construction even as they report on the protests (which isn’t all that often). I see it in the $3.7 billion that Energy Transfer Partners has invested in the pipeline’s construction, as well as the market analysts who continue to see the company’s stock as a good investment. I see it in a government which, even as it pauses construction, and even as its President makes pomp and circumstance over climate treaties, continues to sell the rights to drill into the land it controls. And I see it in the violence which has already been used against the protesters, by authorities both corporate and governmental, and which continues to be threatened – North Dakota’s governor has activated the state’s National Guard to protect the interests of the pipeline, a move which no doubt holds ominous weight for a people massacred by our government not so long ago.

And so, with the system threatening the life of the planet in the general, and the lives of those who would protect it in the specific, every one of us who can, must act. We must act to change the system until it is no longer a threat, or we must replace it with one which is no longer a threat. We must act together in the spirit of and with the blessing of those who were the first at the Dakota Access protest, and among the first to live on this land – the Standing Rock Sioux and their “lakota” and “dakota”, which mean “allies” and “friends”. And we must act now – not a year, or even a month, from now, but now, before more oil is drilled and burnt, and before Sioux blood once again stains the Dakota prairie.

And so I, a gardener and a writer who has been given some words that ring true to himself, am writing to see for whom else they ring true.  First of all, I ask if they ring true for the leaders of Standing Rock and their people, for they are once again showing themselves to be true guardians of the planet, as they have been for millennia. And if so, I ask every one of us – every environmental organization, every organizer, every financier, every artist, every scientist, every celebrity spokesperson, every government official, every candidate for office, and every common citizen of the earth who gives at least a fraction of a damn about how we treat it – to stand with Standing Rock, act with them, while we have the chance to make things different, and better.

We do have that chance, and we can make things different.  The foundations of this extractivist system were once designed and built, and they can be taken apart and redesigned to heal the damage they’ve caused.  And we can do this. Now, will we?

J. Mark Tebben, Denver, CO


(image from The Guardian)