A Distant Trumpet: Army Celebrates Thanksgiving by Ordering Sioux Camp to Disperse

Spotted Tail, Siŋté Glešká of the Brulé Lakota (1823-1881) lamented, “This war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land from us without price.”

Some things never change. One of those things is the United States government’s treatment of Native Americans.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter on Friday to Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault informing him that the Corps is ordering the Sioux’s Oceti Sakowin camp, the center of protests against the DAPL, to disperse by closing the “corps-managed federal property north of the Cannonball River to all public use and access” starting December 5.


Those in violation, the letter says, “will be considered trespassing and may be subject to prosecution under federal, state, and local laws…Additionally, any tribal government that sponsors such illegal activity is assuming the risk for those persons who remain on these lands.”

For the Sioux, this is being treated like trespassers on their own land.

According to the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, which was never rescinded, and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the lands on which the Oceti Sakowin camp sits, are Sioux lands. Visiting Washington in 1875, Spotted Tail told President Grant “I respect the Treaty [of 1868] but the white men who come in our country do not.”

They did not then. They did not after. They still do not.

The Pick-Sloan Plan of 1944 seized the most fertile Sioux lands (including the site of the Oceti Sakowin camp) along the river in order to build dams. In typical fashion, the government said lands worth $23 million were worth $1.3 million and paid the Sioux pennies on the dollar.

It is ironic that one-and-a-quarter centuries after the closing of the Western frontier that the Army is holding its own lands inviolate but permitting the trespass on lands ceded to native tribes through the treaty and reservation system. Ironic too that nothing is said of the unlawful trespass of Sioux lands by the DAPL.

Archambault issued this statement in response:

“Today we were notified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that on Dec. 5th, they will close all lands north of the Cannonball River, which is where the Oceti Sakowin camp is located. The letter states that the lands will be closed to public access for safety concerns, and that they will allow for a ‘free speech zone’ south of the Cannonball River on Army Corps lands.

Our Tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever. The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now.

We ask that everyone who can appeal to President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the future of our people and rescind all permits, and deny the easement to cross the Missouri River just north of our Reservation and straight through our treaty lands. When the Dakota Access Pipeline chose this route, they did not consider our strong opposition. Our concerns were clearly articulated directly to them in a tribal council meeting held on Sept. 30, 2014, where DAPL and the ND Public Service Commission came to us with this route. We have released the audio recording from that meeting.

Again, we ask that the United States stop the pipeline and move it outside our ancestral and treaty lands.

It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving—a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe. Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the mistreatment of our people. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stands united with more than 300 tribal nations and the water protectors who are here peacefully protesting the Dakota access pipeline to bolster indigenous people’s rights. We continue to fight for these rights, which continue to be eroded. Although we have suffered much, we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children.”

The Army Corps of Engineers says “Through deeds, not words, we are BUILDING STRONG” and claims that “Our men and women are protecting and restoring the Nation’s environment” even while they are busily engaged in destroying that environment in North Dakota.

Pipelines leak. The DAPL will leak. With catastrophic results to those who depend on the Missouri River for water.

In an age when the words of a treaty ought to mean something, and be held inviolate, the United States is showing its ugliest “post-imperialist” face to the world and choosing profits for the fossil fuel industry over the health and safety of the people – and over the treaty rights of Native Americans.

The Sioux protesters and their allies from all over the world have been brutally treated by law enforcement agencies for protecting their treaty rights and hundreds have been hurt by attack dogs, gas, rubber bullets, and possibly, grenades.

Unfortunately, we just saw that Donald Trump owns a big stake in the DAPL so it would be hopelessly optimistic for anyone to imagine things are going to get better before they get worse.

Photo: Oceti Sakowin camp, EcoWatch