Two Standing Rock Activists on What Independence Day Means to Them Now

"I find the 4th of July ironic."

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Jul 4 2017, 8:31pm

Photo by Desiree Kane.

Last month, oil began flowing through the much-contested pipeline that travels across the Great Plains, from North Dakota to Illinois. Prior to coming online, the Dakota Access Pipeline had already sprung at least two leaks. (A federal judge has since requested a new study on the environmental impact of the pipeline, saying the first one was rushed.)

President Trump's approval of the DAPL project in February was a devastating blow to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and climate activists. In one of the largest social movements in recent years, they leveled a months-long protest against the construction of the pipeline, which they argued would endanger a nearby water source for millions of people and taint sites sacred to the Sioux and other indigenous nations.

Read more: Feminist Activists Occupy Women's Prison After 10-Hour Standoff with Police

Since the protesters were evicted from camp in February, a number of media outlets have reported on just how badly the pipeline developer wanted them out of there. According to Grist, a paramilitary private security firm was hired by Energy Transfer Partners to launch "an intrusive military-style surveillance and counterintelligence campaign against the activists and their allies." Leaked documents also revealed the firm labeled the activists as "jihadists" and "attempted to create divisions between activists, manipulate and discredit pipeline opponents, and collect evidence that law enforcement could use to prosecute Standing Rock activists."

Recently, I spoke with Desiree Kane and Jacqueline Keeler, two journalists who spent time in Standing Rock as allies during the resistance. Kane, a Miwok woman, worked on the media and security teams over the course of seven months, while Keeler is a Diné/Ihanktonwan Dakota writer with family in the area who joined the collective three different times during the standoff.

Photo of Desiree Kane.

The day we chat, the two are in the car traveling across South Dakota to visit water protectors and gather their stories for a book Keeler is working on. With Independence Day looming, Broadly asked the two women to share their thoughts on the upcoming holiday in light of the time they invested with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Desiree Kane: When It comes down to Independence Day, I don't really know how I feel. I think I feel a few ways. One is I feel like the United States is going down. And I'm not sure what's exactly being celebrated anymore. Because I don't know, there are so many people here that are not yet free.

Standing Rock was a place where people were really committed to exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and their religious freedom. That was first and foremost, and remains an indigenous spiritual movement about sovereignty.

Photo by Desiree Kane.

Jacquelyn Keeler: I'm a citizen of the Navajo nation. I don't know; I find the 4th of July ironic. For me, what Standing Rock was about is the issue of sovereignty. Treaties are only entered into by sovereign nations, and the US does not have the power to unilaterally aggregate those treaties; they're bilateral. They're actively breaking international law.

What Standing Rock did was it made the military occupation of the territory of the United States visible. The US is still a colony. Even after it broke off from Great Britain, I feel like it doesn't have a homeland. It occupies other nations' homeland, which is what a colony does. I feel it still operates as a colony. It's here to exploit our land, to take our profit and funnel it back to its one percent.

I never expected this to happen in my lifetime.

I often talk about who "the real people" are. The real people are people whose origin story is tied to the meeting with a sacred being that is a manifestation of the land itself, and it's in this meeting that they're given their original instructions on how to have a respectful relationship with the earth, with the land, with the people on it, with the other people, the nonhuman people. This is what we're fighting for at Standing Rock, and all over the country right now.

I never expected this to happen in my lifetime. And yeah, I think I believe it is possible to change colonialism.

Kane: I oscillate between being hopeful and also really missing camp and upset, [experiencing] some PTSD, and seeing everyone else I grew really close to with the same sort of mental, emotional and physical struggles after extensive police violence and war being waged upon us.

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At the same time, there was so much healing that went on in that place. We were surrounded by folks across the globe who explicitly understood your struggle. That's pretty powerful. I have a whole new family that I'll know the rest of my life.

When we talk about Independence Day … maybe it's interdependence that we should be celebrating, not independence.