Author: Nick Estes
Title: "Our History is the Future — Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance."
Publisher: Verso 2019; 257 pages of text with two maps, and illustrations before each chapter
Nick Estes has written a very interesting and personal account of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest and the encampments by the Missouri and Cannonball rivers, and the closing of Highway 1806 in 2016. His account differs from reports I have read or viewed, but I was not there. I tried to read this book with an open mind.
As is my usual practice, I first read the acknowledgements and reviewed the notes and index, which immediately gave me an insight as to his point of view. While holding a fellowship at Harvard in 2017-18, he gained a greater appreciation of his indigenous New England colleagues and "the true history of Thanksgiving, a National Day of Mourning for Indigenous peoples."
One comment in his acknowledgements surprised me: "Any and all mistakes contained herein are also not solely my responsibility. That is pure bourgeois individualism. The accountability required to tell a story of this magnitude is always a collective process."
Estes does use indigenous names, but he also helpfully sets forth their common English names throughout. Thus, the Missouri River is Mni Sose and the seven nations of Lakota, Dakota and Nokota speaking people — the Great Sioux Nation — are Oceti Sakowin. The Black Hills are He Sapa — "the heart of everything that is." He says a rallying cry was Mni Wiconi, which means "water is life." And there are other terms he defines as they are used.
In the prologue, Estes relates an event on Black Friday 2016 when people from the camps "flooded" the Kirkwood Mall with a plan to disrupt shopping where they were met by police armed with AR-15s. An encounter resulted in 33 arrests. Living in Bismarck, I heard nothing about any such incident. I admit I did not know much about the specifics of what was happening during the days of the encampments, so Estes' point of view is all new to me. Estes writes: "The Protesters called themselves Water Protectors because they weren't simply against a pipeline; they also stood for something greater: the continuation of life on a planet ravaged by capitalism."
He uses novel phrases such as, "In what is currently Canada," while the U.S.- Canada border is "the Medicine Line." He praises the camps while citing gross violations by the police. I suspect law enforcement in contact with the protesters saw the events entirely differently.
Estes writes: "There is one essential reason why Indigenous peoples resist, refuse, and contest U.S. rule: land. In fact, U.S. history is all about land and the transformation of space, fundamentally driven by territorial expansion, the elimination of Indigenous peoples, and white settlement." In the history of settlement and the taking of indigenous land an Indian agent advocated "peace by military occupation." According to Estes: "Private property held more sanctity than the Indigenous treaties or lives."
Estes notes one way to drive indigenous peoples off the land was to kill their buffalo. While I knew hunters and passengers from trains killed lots of buffalo, I never knew soldiers were the main killers of buffalo. Estes writes: "The 'Indian problem' was also a 'buffalo problem,' .... one requires the destruction of the other."
Estes explains the Pick-Sloan project and the five large dams across the Missouri River flooded and destroyed the best of the reservations' lands, as well as the land of settlers. He also nicely covers the history of treaties with the indigenous peoples and the governments allowed them through the 1935 Indian Reorganization Act. He asserts: "The United States was founded on genocide and the continuing theft of a continent."
Estes writes of Red Power, AIM (American Indian Movement) and the takeover in 1973 of Wounded Knee, which for 70 days "was an independent Indigenous territory, attracting worldwide attention." I am happy to give Estes a full opportunity to set forth his side of history, but I have to differ when he describes the death of two FBI agents in a "firefight." The truth as I understand it is the agents were ambushed and executed in cold blood.
In June 1974 at Standing Rock, an International Indian Treaty Council was founded as an an international arm of AIM. Russell Means, of AIM, was the main speaker who told the assembly that recognition "was pointless if it didn't entail the destruction of the colonial system and, above all, the restoration of treaty lands." The treaty council was embraced mainly by leftist governments.
Estes is a very passionate writer with a point of view which my background and experience cannot allow me to share. Nevertheless, this book is a good read in terms of appreciating Estes' advocacy and commentary; just do not accept everything he writes as being historically accurate.