Tensions rose again, last week, as the peaceful protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) by Standing Rock “Protectors”—as they are calling themselves—clashed with a heavily militarized police force, catapulting this controversial conflict between corporate oil interests and safe drinking water back to the forefront of an already contentious new cycle.
The complicated history of this protest by the Sioux tribe and their supporters—and the bloody confrontations they’ve faced—is fairly well known at this point…
…but what remains largely underreported by most mainstream media is the spiritual, cultural and ontological views motivating the response from First Nations peoples. This side of the story can be largely summed up in a lesser-known Lakota legend—that of Zuzeca Sape, “The Black Snake.”
Noted by one Protector, Iyuskin American Horse, in a widely circulated story written for The Guardian,
“Our elders have told us that if the zuzeca sape, the black snake, comes across our land, our world will end. Zuzeca has come – in the form of the Dakota Access pipeline – and so I must fight.”
Another prophecy, from late 19th century native leader Black Elk, speaks of how, in seven generations—despite the traumatic blow dealt to his people by the centuries of slaughter and cultural collapse imposed by European invasion—a renewed spirit would emerge amongst his people and the other inhabitants of the Earth, bringing them together to protect the planet.
Guardian journalist Nicky Woolf reports that together, these accounts are a major source of inspiration to the Protectors. They see the DAPL as a great destroyer…and themselves, rightly so, as the seventh generation…here to make a stand.
To them, this pipeline is not merely a threat to the water and the land of the Sioux nation—it represents an ongoing, eschatological hazard to all creatures of the earth.
With the weight of next week’s Presidential election bearing down on us—and the fate of our divided democracy and our ailing environment at stake in the eyes of many—the protest against the DAPL is arguably the perfect, cautionary metaphor for the struggle we face as a nation. One can only hope and pray that this is a moment in history where the Spirit of the Law trumps the Letter.
In the language of the Lakota people:
“Mni Wiconi” ~ “Water Is Life”