What should we see in the ashes of the Standing Rock protest camp?

The anti-DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) protest camp burned last Wednesday, teepees set ceremoniously ablaze by protesters before the police swarmed in to arrest anyone who dared remain on the camp.

As Donald Trump and his cronies strip away the rights of trans people, Muslims, immigrants, and now Native Americans with his executive order to accelerate the building of DAPL, it may almost seem the world is burning down, engulfed in the wealthy’s insatiable hunger to steal more and more from the oppressed.

The struggle continues, however. This is only another example, as described by Linda Black Elk, head of the Medic and Healer Council at Standing Rock, of “a continued legacy of oppression by the United States government.” DAPL cuts through Sioux historical camps and ceremonial sites throughout its route, as well as being a threat to drinking water and their edible and medicinal plants that grow adjacent to the pipeline. The voices of the nearly 10,000 people who occupied the resistance camp at its peak have been silenced by force.

This is not unlike the history of Native Americans being coerced at gunpoint to give up their land to colonizers – or the denial of Native Americans’ right to control their reservations’ resources by the U.S. government, causing disastrous mismanagement of Native American assets and burdensome bureaucracy, forcing those living on reservations into poverty.

But as oppression continues, resistance builds. This is not even close to being the end of the struggle against the capitalist machine that pollutes our water and robs us of what is rightly ours. The Indigenous Environmental Network is organizing an action from March 7th to March 10th in Washington, D.C. “in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples across the world and [to] demand that Indigenous Rights be respected.” The turnout is expected to be in the many thousands.

As Black Elk pointed out, “we also have people who are going down to Texas to fight the Trans-Pecos pipeline. We have people who are going to Louisiana to fight the Bayou Bridge pipeline and Florida to fight the Sabal Trail pipeline. […] We continue to stand. We continue to educate. We will be everywhere to let people know that there’s a better way to live, there’s a better way to live with the Earth.”

We will continue to fight for that better way to live, for a society where the working class and all the people of the world who have been exploited and oppressed can be liberated. If we are to see poetry in the rising smoke of the Standing Rock protest site, let it be this: this fire will never go out; our rage, our despair, our burning desire for justice will be our tools with which we win freedom for the people.

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