Editor’s note: This is an editorial piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of The Daily Haze or any of our affiliates.
Over the past few months in Standing Rock, I have witnessed a gathering of people turn into a force that not even its creators can control. People continue to pile in from all around the country despite inclement weather, an emergency evacuation placed by the governor, and a notice of eviction from the Army Corps for the Oceti Sakowin that grows closer by the day.
While you would think this growing support would be an invaluable asset to all those brave enough to stand against what appears to be the impending possibility of arrests and more police violence, which it is to a degree, at the same time, it is becoming a blessing and a curse. As people flood into Standing Rock, they are bringing along with them their personal views and agendas.
Among these personal views, there is an apparent calling to white America to come and witness the Native American culture. I cannot count the number of times I have heard white people talking about how this is affecting them, and how they felt compelled to come and stand with their Native American brothers and sisters, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be united with your fellow humans during a time of crisis.
Here is where the problem comes into play. I have seen a lot of outsiders feel they are entitled to take part in the Native American prayers and ceremonies just because they came here to show support. For the Native Americans, their ways are not a religion that can be dropped to switch to another at the drop of a dime; it is a way of life. Their way of life.
What is happening in Standing Rock is not for people to come and “experience the Native American culture.” If you want to experience the Native American culture, contact any one of the many reservations around the country and go about it in a proper and respectful manner.
The fact of the matter is, out of every race in the United States of America, Native Americans have it the worst. The Native Americans have been the victims of genocide and land theft since the moment we arrived on their land. It has not stopped, and the situation in Standing Rock shows it is not going to end anytime soon.
The poverty rate of Standing Rock was 43.2% in 2014, nearly triple the national average of 15%. Native Americans also face the highest chance of being shot by a police officer out of every ethnicity.
Native Americans are three times more likely to be shot by a police officer. What makes the problem with Native American involved police shootings is that they also often go unreported. From May 1, 2014, and October 31, 2015, there were 29 Native Americans killed by police, yet only one of those shootings received any significant attention.
Paul Castaway from the Rosebud Sioux was shot and killed by police in Denver after he had threatened to commit suicide. Another Native American man was misidentified as being Latino.
It is sad how many people think casinos and government checks when they think of Native Americans. A false image that all tribes are financially set. That is simply is not the case. Most of the tribes are broke, with only the tribal councils benefitting financially from any benefits received from the federal government or programs the tribes have.
Standing Rock is a perfect example to see exactly how little the American government cares about the Native American people. While the Black Lives Matters movement has gained a significant amount of support, the problems in the Native American communities have continued to be ignored. With a strong media focus on police shootings, it is strange that Native Americans are not sitting at the table for discussion since statistically their chance of being shot by a police officer is much higher than any other race.
The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri set the stage for a new civil rights movement throughout the African-American community. Directly after the shooting of Brown, officers used an excessive amount of tear gas on protesters for days in a row. Law enforcement in Ferguson was quickly reprimanded and denied the continued use of tear gas against protesters.
In Standing Rock, following an incredibly brutal attack by law enforcement just over a week ago, nobody has stepped in. Water was sprayed on people in 23-degree weather, and nobody stepped in. Tear gas, mace and rubber bullets were used, and nobody stepped in. Sophia Wilansky had her arm severely injured by a grenade, and Vanessa Dundon woman lost vision in her right eye, and nobody stepped in.
The situation in Standing Rock is not the first time that white-America has tried to force their sympathy and urge to identify with the struggle of another race into the wrong situation at the wrong time. One day we are going to just have to accept that we will never understand the struggles that other ethnicities are forced to go through. If we learned anything from this last election it is that, as much as we may want to deny it, racism is alive and well in this country and it is not just towards the African-American community.
Many of the “festival kids” have come to Standing Rock due to a mix of a deep calling in their hearts, and it being the off-season for festivals. Many arrived with little or nothing to support themselves. No tent, no money, no winter clothing, and no real knowledge on what why exactly they are here, which makes them an immediate drain on the camps that have been working for months to prepare for winter.
Those coming to Standing Rock need to remember that this is a serious situation, and those coming need to treat it as such. Aside from being at the beginning of a winter that can be deadly, past injuries from law enforcement show the very real danger the people here are facing.
This is not the time or place to learn about Native American culture, score some social media pictures, or to have a free place to stay. If you are coming to Standing Rock, be able to bring something to the table. Be able to contribute to the people around you. But, most importantly, pay respect. The Native Americans do not owe you anything for coming here to show support. That is your choice.