A bit of a rant: Though the protest at Standing Rock is arguably outside of the scope of poverty law, I want to briefly write about it as well as provide links to more information about the protest. I think a case can be made that in fact the Standing Rock protest is a matter of poverty law not only because it is a moment of tremendous coming together of Indian communities and nations, many of them marked by incredible levels of poverty and unemployment, but also because the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) squarely raises matters of environmental justice (something I have written about previously in a different context). At the very least, I feel Standing Rock is as much a matter of poverty law as the protests about race and police violence are poverty law matters. But that also is part of my frustration when it comes to Standing Rock. I have a hard time conveying just how important Standing Rock seems to be to Indian communities and advocates to those who do not often think about Indian issues. It is also infuriating that the media attention to an ongoing and sustained protest by thousands of Native Americans of hundreds of Indian nations and indeed indigenous peoples beyond the United States is so lacking. If such a large and extended protest was a protest by any other group of people, even other disadvantaged groups, I think the media would be paying more attention to it. Can you imagine the uproar if dogs had been used against other groups?!? Dogs! Yet, when Indians are on the receiving end of such attacks and are the ones protesting, the media seems to have a short attention span. Compare the attention given to the Bundy protests over public land—protests by people (white ranchers) whose hopes seem essentially to be to not have to pay fees and to get land for free—to that given to Indians protesting the continuing threat posed by our fossil fuel addiction and the ways in which Indian interests are not taken into account.
I will admit that I have some misgivings about the fact that the DAPL became the locus for the protest movement that I think was building and looking for an outlet. Things would be easier and the justice of the protesters’ claims would be cleaner if the project was through reservation land as opposed to just upstream. And the Obama administration’s decision to give protesters a partial victory by placing a temporary hold on the pipeline development threatens to accomplish exactly what arguably it was meant to accomplish: taking the wind out of the sails of the protest without actually changing the eventual outcome (it came after a disappointing response by Obama to a question about Standing Rock while he was in Laos). So it is not the ideal, perfect set of facts to ground a protest movement. But putting these misgivings to the side, there was something incredibly inspiring about seeing the reactions by friends and by Indian country in general to the protests. The day after security guards used dogs to attack protesters, people got in their cars and seemed to head in mass to Standing Rock from reservations across the country. Their photos of the scene upon arrival of the large camp, their photos of mass marches, and of children, grandparents, and parents all joined in the collective fight may not be making it to the mass media as much as they should, but they are inspiring and worthy of celebration, reflection, and attention.