There’s no word from Standing Rock in the New York Times or on CNN today. Indians slip into the national news on occasion—and then, on most occasions, slip out as quickly.
Both CNN and MSNBC did report yesterday about an oil spill from another pipeline just three hours from Standing Rock. The spill happened more than a week ago, on December 5. According to CNN,
“State officials estimate 4,200 barrels of crude oil, or 176,000 gallons, have leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline in Billings County. Of that amount, 130,000 gallons of oil has flowed into Ash Coulee Creek, while the rest leaked onto a hillside, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager at the North Dakota Department of Health.”
Had it been in New York or Pennsylvania, the Times would have had someone on it, and it would not have slipped away from its reporters in just a day. In North Dakota and elsewhere in Indian Country, such national attention is fleeting.
The most recent reports I find in national news from Standing Rock give the government forces a chance to explain their actions. North Dakota’s Congressman Kevin Cramer has taken every opportunity, including an op-ed space in the Wall Street Journal, to criticize the protestors for disrespecting “private property rights,” and the Obama Administration for ignoring the “rule of law” for “political expediency.”
Indians, and especially the Sioux, could school the Congressman on the rule of law and political expediency! Here’s a brief statement from the National Archives:
|Wounded Knee – 1890
“The Black Hills of Dakota are sacred to the Sioux Indians. In the 1868 treaty, signed at Fort Laramie and other military posts in Sioux country, the United States recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people. In 1874, however, General George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills accompanied by miners who were seeking gold. Once gold was found in the Black Hills, miners were soon moving into the Sioux hunting grounds and demanding protection from the United States Army. Soon, the Army was ordered to move against wandering bands of Sioux hunting on the range in accordance with their treaty rights. In 1876, Custer, leading an army detachment, encountered the encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn River. Custer’s detachment was annihilated, but the United States would continue its battle against the Sioux in the Black Hills until the government confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the U.S. government and the Sioux.”
I get a glimpse today of what Alvin Josephy must have felt like time and again as he tried to bring the Indian Story to the American public. Looking for his own books in bookstores, he often found them with the “dinosaurs and the insects.” “Indians don’t have history and biography,” he would say. “They have anthropology and ‘natural’ history.”
Which did not stop him from using all the tools at his disposal—his editorial perch at American Heritage; his relations with Knopf Publishing; his standing as an award winning Marine Corps journalist in the Pacific in WW 2—to bring real Indian history and biography, real Indian voices, to the American Public.
I realize that in many ways, now that I sit in my own perch at the Josephy Library, the Sioux were often involved in his truth telling. A long article he prepared for National Geographic did not, due to editorial changes, get published. And I am still looking for a book-length Sioux manuscript he once told me was still publishable. Nevertheless, how he followed events in Sioux Country and what he did publish is substantial:
There was the “Custer Myth” in Life Magazine in 1971, the story of a visit to the Little Big Hole Battlefield with some Indian friends during the time that Alvin served as a technical advisor for the film, “Little Big Man.” In 1971, Josephy pointed out, government interpreters at the National Park site were still calling Custer a hero and the Indians savages!
In 1973, just two years later, and only weeks after the Indian-FBI confrontation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Alvin published “Wounded Knee and All That: What the Indians Really Want,” in the New York Times. He included a grizzly burial photo of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee of over 300 Sioux—many, including women and children, were killed in their tipis by Hotchkiss machine gun fire.
And then, in 1990, on the 100th anniversary of the first Wounded Knee, he wrote its historical account for a book published by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center: Wounded Knee: Lest We Forget. I’d suggest that Congressman Kramer, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, other government and pipeline officials, and especially environmental activists concerned about water and Indian treaty rights, read this brief account of how the Indians standing at Standing Rock came to be there.
Email me to get a pdf of this essay.