Dennis Banks on Standing Rock: Native people are guardians of the land

Dennis_Banks_(8673602267)_(cropped).jpgDennis Banks, Photo credit: Neeta Lind

Dennis Banks, Anishinaabe born on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and famed co-founder of American Indian Movement in 1968, is running for Vice President of the United States together with presidential candidate Gloria La Riva. He and La Riva are the candidates of the Peace and Freedom Party in California, and on the ballot in New Mexico, Colorado and Iowa for the Party for Socialism and Liberation. La Riva is on the ballot with Eugene Puryear in Washington State, New Jersey, Florida, Vermont and Louisiana.  

As Dennis Banks took to the road Thursday afternoon from the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota to return to the resistance camp of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, he issued a declaration: 

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the four states involved and the Energy Transfer Pipeline company have all have entered into agreement to try to put the Dakota Access Pipeline through.  

They never once contacted the reservation to ask about the impact on their land or to ask for input on what could be a very dangerous project. People’s lives are at stake. 

Because of that, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has taken a very strong position to halt any kind of construction of pipeline underneath their land. Not only would the pipeline destroy the environment, it would poison and contaminate the water for years. 

This is why over 90 Native nations have come together. They’ve brought their tribal flags. That’s what is flying over Standing Rock. 

Last weekend when I was at Standing Rock, we had 2,500 people, strong, peaceful, united. It was great to see the young men and women on their horses, gathered to defend the land, and elders and the children.

Now it is almost 4,000 people. And more are coming. A young Native man from Alaska closed down his shop, flew to Bemidji, Minnesota and now we are all driving to Standing Rock. We’ll be there by nightfall. People are coming from everywhere — they know this is historic.

Stopping the destruction of the environment is of primary importance, not only to Native people, but to environmentalists all across the country, to farmers in the area to people around the world. Water is life, without water there is no life.

They plan to pump 400,000 barrels a day through the pipeline under the Missouri River. If it breaks it would be a huge catastrophe.

Our land and water are at stake, our history is at stake, our culture is at stake, our spiritual values, our spiritual sites and ceremonies are at stake.

That’s why 90 tribes are coming to North Dakota, to support Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault and tribal members. 

The National Congress of American Indians is calling on all nations, too.

We must always understand what pipelines mean. Especially when companies negotiate to go through our lands. How could they make billion dollar deals without consulting the very tribes that it is going through? 

The Army Corp of Engineers gave them permits. What business does the Corp of Engineers have giving permits to construct and destroy our environment without out any kind of consultation? That’s what Judge James Boasberg was asking in court yesterday. What kind of consultation was done? The answer of course, is none.

They never consulted with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

This action is as historic as the stand we took at Wounded Knee in 1973, and the widespread support is similar.

In a Harris poll in April during Wounded Knee, they asked if people supported the action going on in Wounded Knee, 72% percent said yes. It was not only Native people coming out, it was white people out there, Black people, Asian people, Hispanics. They were there because they understood what was at stake. It was a time when young people wanted to express themselves. 

That is what this movement in North Dakota is about also. A few years ago, we saw Idle No More rise up.

Now we see the same concerns of people wanting to come together, to address the situation of poverty, of drug abuse, of domestic violence, of our sovereignty being threatened.

Native youth are asking America to recognize our authority on the reservations. That is why they are surrounding the area, to protect the land, the water.

We can’t just allow the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to run roughshod on our people. We’ve got to stand with them.

If the pipeline contaminates the water, the damage will last for generations. Look at what happened with the Gold King chemical spill into the San Juan and Animas Rivers last year, killing horses, sheep and crops of the Navajo Nation. People on the reservation still have no water! In Arizona, Resolution Copper Mining plans the largest copper mine in the continent, taking millions of gallons of scarce water if they succeed. They will destroy lands sacred to the San Carlos Apache. 

This is why 90 Native nations are coming together at Standing Rock, along with people of all ethnicities. In all these confrontations with mining companies, Native people are the guardians of the land. 

People should come visit us for the weekend. Bring your water, bring your camping gear. Some of the elders have gone inside, but people should come out and camp with us. The young people should come and see and hear. Come see the young kids who are having fun, who are feeling free.  

That is how we felt at Wounded Knee. We felt free. This is our hope again.