(submitted, but not printed, as Op-ed to New York Times)
Recent decisions regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline deserve outrage. How is it that the Army Corps of Engineers, having recently agreed to a full environmental impact statement and search for an alternate pipeline route, can, in two weeks of Trump Time, decide that they have enough information to allow the digging to begin on what NYT writer Jill Turkewitz labeled that “disputed patch of land”? Anyone who has half-followed the events at Standing Rock over the last year knows that an alternate route, which would have put the line closer to mostly white Bismarck, N.D., was scrubbed early in the process. And knows that news of “water protectors” representing over 200 North American tribes and indigenous people from Hawaii and the other Americas being shot with rubber bullets and hosed with water cannons in freezing weather has brought veterans groups, churches, and ordinary Joes and Josies to join the protest. I expect the outrage to continue, and the protests, including a March 10 event in Washington, to swell.
But there is room for broader outrage at a national press that has to be dragged into Indian affairs, that only briefly covers Indian stories, finds room for a few pictures of headdresses and feathers, and then moves on, reluctant or not knowing how to deal with the nation’s long bad history with Indians. It doesn’t have to be that way!
I’d like to take you back to March 18, 1973, when the confrontation between the FBI and tribal members on the Pine Ridge Reservation—near neighbors to Standing Rock—had devolved into violence. Because of that violence, because of prior events at Alcatraz and the BIA offices in Washington D.C., because of general unrest over failures in Vietnam, the country was on edge. But the New York Times and Alvin M. Josephy Jr. stepped up with a long, Sunday Magazine piece, “Wounded Knee and All That—What the Indians Want.”
In stinging prose and pictures, Josephy chronicled the Nixon White House attempts to reform the Bureau of Indian Affairs in a pro-Indian fashion, and the reform’s failure because of Congressional and Administration inaction and fear. By Josephy’s reasoning, the road to Wounded Knee seemed almost inevitable. But he didn’t stop there. He told us about a century of outrageous treatment of the Sioux by Americans and our government including the “first” Wounded Knee, in 1890. Times editors included an eerie 1890 photo of US troops atop a mass grave of Indians massacred by Gatling guns.
If Alvin Josephy, noted historian and founding board chair of the National Museum of the American Indian, were alive today, he would have an op-ed in the New York Times. He would be visiting Standing Rock, and pointing out that the “disputed patch of land” that investors, the State of North Dakota, and President Trump want for their oil pipeline is sacred, yes, is important for the water that flows through it, yes. But is finally, once again “stolen ground,” with a long history of broken treaties, and government dissembling, cheating, and war-making on the Indians who have lived their forever.