Oahe means “a place to stand on” in the Dakota language. Earlier this month, Sioux Indians Plenty Wolf and Laurie Running Hawk made statements about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that echoed the emotion behind that word. “I ain’t going nowhere,” said Plenty Wolf. “I’m here,” said Running Hawk. “You’re not going to kick me out, this is my land.”
And so it shall hopefully be. Encouragingly, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers decided to halt construction on the pipeline and conduct further research into how to safely complete the project.
For too many years, our government, along with business interests, has placed an inordinate premium on land use. In terms of profits reaped, the cost to government and business is a small expenditure compared to the incalculable toll on poor white immigrants and people of color, who pay the real price for those shortsighted policies: lost lands, broken treaties, broken families, abuse by owners and bosses, inhumane living and working conditions, pollution.
“Character is destiny,” wrote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. A corollary to that phrase might be, geography forms character; that is, where individuals live and how they care for those spaces determines, informs and shapes their beliefs and practices here on earth. Indigenous peoples understand the interdependence between the land and the individual, and they have shared this wisdom for thousands of years, but our “advanced civilization” has decided not to listen.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ decision may only be a small victory, but nevertheless it’s a larger pronouncement of what grassroots organizations with common aims can accomplish when they unite in a worthy and just cause. It’s a small ray of light in an increasingly dark path in this day and time, but I will take it!
E. G. Singer lives in Santa Rosa.
Open Mic is a weekly feature in the ‘Bohemian.’ We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].