Skip to content Skip to footer

From Smallpox-Tainted Blankets to the #NoDAPL Evacuation: The Lie of Colonial Concern

The United States, as a nation-state, is as diseased now as the smallpox-ridden blankets that were handed to us so many years ago.

Water Protectors in Standing Rock are blasted with water cannons in sub-zero temperatures, November 20, 2016. (Photo: Dark Sevier)

On Monday, November 28, 2016, an evacuation order was issued by the governor of North Dakota, calling for the end of the largest convergence of Native resisters in modern times. That convergence, known on social media as #NoDAPL and often simply referred to as “Standing Rock” — a place whose history and legacy have now been permanently expanded to encompass this moment in time — has existed in defiance of colonial violence for months now. It is a convergence that has been assailed and slandered in news reports that take the word of law enforcement as gospel, despite the factual evidence that law enforcement has a chronic tendency to dehumanize and kill us. That tendency is the story of our existence since first contact. So is the resistance with which it has been met.

Now multiple levels of government are once again acting in concert to write their preferred ending to another chapter of that story.

In essence, the “emergency evacuation” order from Gov. Jack Dalrymple echoes the recently feigned concerns of the Army Corps of Engineers, stating that the area’s plunging temperatures and heavy snowfall pose an unacceptable safety hazard to the Water Protectors. (Such concerns for our people’s warmth were notably lacking when law enforcement blasted Protectors with water cannons in sub-zero temperatures.) The details and language of those orders can be read elsewhere, but I will tell you, unequivocally, what the public must understand about them: These proclamations have nothing to do with Native safety or survival. Our well-being has never been a priority within these United States. If it were, we would not live as we live and die as we die. We would not be killed at a higher rate by police than any other group. We would not have been subjected to such violence on the frontlines of Standing Rock or any other site of Native resistance. Every rubber bullet that has struck Native flesh, every blast of freezing water that has battered Indigenous bodies at skin-ripping velocities and every cloud of tear gas — everything you’ve seen retells the story of how little they care about our survival.

Our people having been facing a brutal storm in Standing Rock for some time now. The notion that some threat of death and suffering is now officially relevant, now that it’s posed by nature as opposed to law enforcement’s tools of torture and repression, is an insult to us all — including each of you. The truth could not be plainer. The path of the pipeline (redirected from a 90 percent white community’s backyard), the repression and the constant threat of an all-out siege are more evidence than anyone should need, for they are merely part of a larger pattern of evidence.

The Army Corps made its recent statement as a PR maneuver. By issuing an eviction date, even without the threat of force, it has skirted any liability for whatever law enforcement does next. The Army Corps declared December 5 the day on which our people will be deemed intruders on the stolen land the Corps governs. Like the governor, the Corps was sure to couch its decision in feigned concern for our people. The position it made clear was as simple as it was spineless: If our people freeze, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves, because we were warned. And if our people are further barbarized by law enforcement, it will have been by our own choice, because we were given fair warning.

After a full day of public outcry, the Army Corps clarified that it had no specific plans for the removal of our Water Protectors. Its statement was more of a proclamation justifying any ugly consequences of resisting yet another displacement.

As Native people, we know this refrain. It is in fact the mechanism by which this government has always sought to manage the Indigenous people who its extermination efforts failed to wipe from the continent. After every mass murder and every geographical reshuffling, the same cycle has repeated itself. Our people are forced to accept false boundaries and containment, or assimilation, because we are offered no other choice. We are pushed into spaces that are not seen as limiting expansion — until those lands or waters are found to have significant value. When the prospect of wealth is detected, those lands and waters are also looted, leaving disease and devastation in the wake of still more violence against both land and human beings.

These systems of colonialism must be understood. Oppressions replicate themselves, throughout history and throughout societies, until they consume targets well beyond those they were constructed to control or destroy. We see this in the gentrification that destroys both Black and Brown communities. We see this in the reshaping of slavery, which also consumes Native lives through the prison-industrial complex — despite that structure being erected, such as it exists, to uphold the social and economic functionality of anti-Blackness.

The United States, as a nation-state, is as diseased now as the smallpox-ridden blankets that were handed to us so many years ago. It is an irony not lost on us that this government once again masks its attacks as efforts to keep us from the cold — to preserve us with a false regard that reeks of death. But we see what lies ahead. In my own imagination, from so many miles away, I can see the barricades that could soon prevent firewood and life-giving food from reaching my people. I can see a government impatiently attempting to freeze and starve out our resisters, for their “own good.” I see them waiting until they believe that all those left standing are weak and ill-prepared for an onslaught. I see them shutting down our ability to view that siege from a distance.

But I do not see us defeated. The truth is, this government has yet to defeat us. We have survived, battle to battle, from one patch of land to another. We are the blood of what couldn’t be killed, and the heart of our resistance now beats in Standing Rock. And it will continue to strengthen us all.

UPDATE, 11/30/16, 9:00am CT: North Dakota officials have announced that police will stop anyone attempting to bring camping supplies — including food and firewood — to the Oceti Sakowin Camp, and inform them that they may be fined up to $1,000 if they attempt to deliver the items.

UPDATE, 11/30/16, 3:40pm CT: The governor of North Dakota, Jack Dalrymple, has walked back — or “clarified” — plans to issue fines of up to $1000 to anyone delivering supplies to the Water Protectors. “There was a misunderstanding on how we are going to use this executive order. We are not going to be stopping people,” claimed Dalrymple at a press conference on November 30. “It would be a huge mistake from a humanitarian standpoint.”