Let me tell you something about the Great Sioux Nation. This is a Native American people that settled the upper Great Plains, in what are now Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, Manitoba, Saskatchawan and—more to the point—the Dakotas. The name Sioux comes from a Sioux word meaning “little snakes,” but there was nothing little about their ferocity. The various Sioux tribes fought back relentlessly against the incursions of the Anglos into their territories in the nineteenth century: the Dakota (or Lakota) wars of the mid-1860s, Red Cloud’s War of 1866-1868, the Great Sioux War of 1876, and the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.
The Sioux always had great warrior-chieftains: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Rain-in-the-Face. Crazy Horse (who defeated Custer’s forces at the Little Bighorn) defined the Nation’s attitude toward the land they had lived upon for millennia when he observed, “One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.” This insistence on defending their land was recently etched into the history books with the stubborn resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux, the dominant tribe in the Dakotas, against efforts to build the so-called Dakota Access oil pipeline, whose planned route brought it adjacent to the tribe’s reservation and threatened, in their view, their water supply from Lake Oahe. Starting last April, the Sioux established camps in the region to begin a peaceful protest of the project. By last November, the protests had erupted into violence with local police, as the Sioux were joined by thousands of non-Indian supporters, including at least 2,000 U.S. military veterans who formed a “human shield” between protesters and police. In early December, the U.S. Army, prompted by President Obama, stopped further work on the pipeline, leading some to call it a victory for the Standing Rock.
But most people knew what was going to happen next: Donald Trump had been a huge supporter of the pipeline and had promised to support it if he were elected, which he was. And so, on Tuesday, Trump issued an executive order ordering work on the Dakota Pipeline to be resumed.
Does anyone imagine that the Sioux are going to be cowed? This proud people, this warrior people, who for decades took on the American Army and inflicted upon it grievous losses? Of course not. Immediately following Trump’s unilateral move, they vowed in no uncertain terms to continue their resistance.
“We can’t back down now,” said a Sioux elder, even as other tribes around the country promised to help them as the protests flare up again. The Sioux said they did not want violence, but violence seems inevitable, even though local police said they have “no plans to forcibly remove people from the campsite.” But it’s hard to believe confrontation won’t lead to arrests and, possibly, bloodshed. As the camp swells from its current population of 500-600 to 10,000 to 20,000—who knows how many Americans will show up in solidarity, fueled by anti-Trumpism, once Spring arrives?—the pipeline’s owner, Energy Transfer Partners (which donated millions to Trump) is going to have to decide how rough to play—and so will this Trump administration. The right, predictably, already is gearing up for the fight: one of their main propaganda tools, the Wall Street Journal, in their lead editorial yesterday, called the Sioux’s claims about their water “fake news,” an insult, yes, but also a howler, coming from one of the twin pillars of Rupert Murdoch’s fake news clearinghouse (the other being Fox “News”).
So let’s unsheathe our swords and gird for battle. We all know Trump loves a good fight. He hasn’t really faced a tough opponent yet. But in the Sioux, he confronts a daunting, and dauntless, foe; their martial history suggests that they will not back down. When they talk about not selling their land, they’re dead serious. Things are about to get ugly up there on the Dakota plains, as a fractured America becomes even more broken and civil unrest mounts, instigated by an angry, divisive, uncompromising and reactionary demagogue.