Fifty years from now: Standing Rock in historical context

In fifty years, what will they think of 2017? With all our frantic concerns about the state of our country and the world, what will be considered most crucial to history?

Certainly there will be a mention of President Donald J. Trump’s stormy first few weeks in office. But in a world fifty years from now, whether fossil-fuel-driven climate change is in full swing or it has been averted at the last minute, a far more important historical drama than the Trump presidency will dominate the histories. 

Creative Commons image by Dark Sevier of

Creative Commons image by Dark Sevier of

And it will center on North Dakota. Until now it was hard to imagine a place more remote from the center of power and history. But in the past six months, something happened there that will mark history one way or another. I don’t mean "merely" the gathering and unity of the Native American tribes at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

That is significant and surely will be mentioned. But more important still was the unprecedented feat of indigenous and grassroots activists who defeated (even if only for a time) the Goliath of the fossil fuel industry, culminating in the decision by the Obama administration to deny permits for the pipeline last December. 

US military analysts have joined the vast majority of scientists in stating that human-induced climate change is a greater security threat to our country than terrorism. And whether we counter it or let it overwhelm us, the stand off in North Dakota will be a key moment. It may the beginning of the last-minute sea change toward a sane and sustainable future or it may mark one of the last stands of that sanity in a world quickly descending into the chaos of massive drought, famine and huge migrations of refugees. 

Last week, militarized police evicted protesters from the Standing Rock camps protesting DAPL. Dozens of officers in riot gear descended on the camps with weapons drawn and helicopters in the sky, pointing guns at people at prayer and arresting forty-seven. 

Right now the political climate is such that the event was primarily reported by foreign newspapers such as The Guardian in the UK and most US media were silent. But history will have harsher words for this reactionary act of corporate government. 

This may well be one of those times our grandchildren will ask us about someday. Where were you and what did you do? Did you wring your hands or were you one of those who had the courage to stand up for our lives? 

Creative Commons image by Dark Sevier of

Creative Commons image by Dark Sevier of

Most of us feel helpless to stop such disastrous events, but even in the most difficult circumstances there are things we can do. They may not stop the injustice and destruction, but they will be an answer--of sorts--to those questions. We can attend protests, write letters, organize, speak out constantly about climate change even amid momentary concerns and call our political representatives.

We can demand that public officials step in or at least speak out with the enhanced voice of their offices. And this does not mean only Republican officials who may have backed the demolition of the protest camps. In many ways, it may be more important to call the Democrats. 

Even if they are too few to stop what is happening here and now, they can speak and work toward solutions to the crisis of climate and fossil fuel. 

And the message for them is essentially the same as the message for us. Another era will come and they will look back on the treatment of these Native American activists fighting for all of our futures today much the way we now look on the beating of civil rights protesters in the 1950s. 

Every public official today will be historically defined by where they stood on this issue.