This has become the slogan of the Sioux who are encamped at Sacred Stone trying to prevent the bulldozing of an area they claim encompasses sacred sites as well as protect the water in the Missouri River that runs through this area from contamination. Morton County law enforcement has cited “the law” and moved in upon these protestors in the name of “the law” with recorded videos showing pepper sprays, attack dogs and water dousing in freezing temperatures. Those journalists who recorded these events have been arrested and jailed under the guise of inciting the crowd that is breaking “the law.”
In addition, environmentalists and groups from areas all over the country affected by contamination of their own water supply have come in support and are labeled as interlopers who are interfering with officials sworn to protect the people being attacked. The people of the nation are listening as areas like Flint, Michigan and towns in West Virginia along the Ohio River have seen their drinking water poisoned with lead and other toxins from industrial sludge. Extreme droughts all over the country in California, Georgia and recently the Appalachian areas of western North Carolina and Tennessee are causing havoc in such a way that it has become impossible to ignore these realities. But Water is Life is just one part of this controversy. The Native Americans have become the spokespeople for this movement because they know full well how their very way of life and culture was destroyed by the actions of government representatives who came in with the intention of destroying a culture that stood in the way of Progress and Manifest Destiny.
In 1849 gold was discovered in California. In addition, by a contrived, imperialistic war (Mexican American War), the United States gained control of New Mexico, Arizona and rights to control all the trade established along the Santa Fe Trail. In the 1860’s a transcontinental railroad to connect the United States to California and follow the route of the Santa Fe Trail was begun. The United States “owned” all the prairie lands in between due to the terms of the Louisiana Purchase. California had become a state in 1850 after the Compromise of 1850 determined it would be a Free State. There was only one problem. The Native American tribes that had been living in the Great Plains area for centuries were not happy when settlers, railroad employees and wagon trains began filing across their hunting grounds. Trouble followed because these Indians were not giving up without a fight, but the railroad conglomerate found a way to get rid of the problem. Destroy their economy by killing off the buffalo. Hired guns did just that and it wasn’t long before the Indians began to suffer accordingly. Therefore, when the government came to them with a peace treaty they were willing to sign. This was the Treaty of Ft. Laramie of 1868.
According to that Treaty, the Indians agreed to settle in an area that included the Black Hills (where Mt. Rushmore is located today) because that is where their sacred burial grounds were. They agreed to settle as farmers along the river banks that flowed through the area, including the Little Big Horn and Missouri Rivers as well as others. In addition, so long as they were peaceful, the warriors were allowed hunting rights on unassigned lands. The Black Hills of Dakota are sacred to the Sioux Indians. In the 1868 treaty, signed at Fort Laramie and other military posts in Sioux country, the United States recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people.
In 1869, however, gold was discovered in the Black Hills. Miners began pouring into the area. 1874 Gen. George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills accompanied by miners who were seeking gold. Once gold was found in the Black Hills, miners were soon moving into the Sioux hunting grounds and demanding protection from the U.S. Army. Soon, the Army was ordered to move against wandering bands of Sioux hunting on the range in accordance with their treaty rights. In 1876, Custer, leading an army detachment, encountered the encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn River. Custer's detachment was annihilated, but the United States would continue its battle against the Sioux in the Black Hills until the government confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the U.S. Government and the Sioux.
Total destruction of the Indians took place in the 1880’s when the United States government moved against Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull when the Indians began the practice of the Ghost Dance started by a prophet named Wovoka who had had a vision of restoring peace and prosperity to the Sioux People through the performance of this dance. Both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were pursued as terrorists and both were gunned down by the US Army. It was then that the United States took away the lands given in the Treaty of 1868 and enforced the atrocious reservation system and the Carlisle Boarding Schools designed to “kill the Indian” not the man.
The Sioux encamped at Standing Rock are doing exactly what they did in 1874 and the times of the Ghost Dance. They are there standing tall for their water and land rights and joining in prayer to preserve what limited rights they still have and perhaps regain the land illegally taken from them in 1877.