Two children on horseback outside of the Standing Rock camp last year. | Connor Hadley

Standing Rock Reflection


By | Phil Santos

We brought prayers to a gunfight, and we won. I’m talking about the water protectors who stood against military, police and mercenary forces last year at Standing Rock. We were there to protect the water, to preserve the future and to stand against those who would see our precious earth destroyed for a dollar. We were there to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It was around this time last year that I had been released from jail. I was one of about 150 water protectors arrested on Oct. 27, 2016 during the invasion of Standing Rock. It’s 2017, and the pipeline has been built. So, how did we succeed?

While I cannot speak for everyone, here is my individual take.

Standing Rock demonstrates the active presence of a powerful Indigenous community. Historic and contemporary narratives often portray Indigenous culture as a part of the past. I’ve met people who didn’t know Indigenous Peoples still existed. I think Standing Rock has made this much less likely. Thousands of Indigenous protectors from hundreds of Indigenous nations from all over the world came together at Standing Rock. The media coverage of Standing rock sent a loud and clear message that Indigenous nations are not passive and that they are here and now.

Standing Rock created alliances that might have otherwise never have been forged. The Sacred Fire of the Seven Councils was lit, something that hadn’t happened since the 1800s. Indigenous nations from all parts of the world came to show their solidarity. Groups from every race united under Indigenous leadership. I saw Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike all acting for one cause. This is an image that captures true power. I met like minds from across the world. I found lifelong friendships in a matter of hours. Although I’ve returned from Standing Rock, the reason I went carries forth.

Standing Rock brought attention to Indigenous issues. Over 300 cities in the U.S. joined in to slow the construction of the pipeline. Newscasters across the world cast light on the continued violation of Indigenous rights, of Treaty rights and of the continued history of violence against Indigenous nations. The issue of environmental racism was explicitly raised and people were engaged. Footage showing the willingness for state and federal governments to utilize violence for the benefit of private companies broadcasted across the world. The U.N. sent human rights investigators. All of these events contributed to raise awareness of Indigenous issues which are typically marginalized.

Sure, the pipeline was built – so one could say the movement at Standing Rock was actually a failure. But the protectors at Standing Rock who aren’t still in jail continue to forward the call, which brought them there in the first place. Thousands of protectors have been changed forever. You don’t forget something that has made you who you are, and Standing Rock is now a part of who I am. Standing Rock was not a defeat. It was empowering and gave me the courage to challenge the structures around me. I’m not the only one, and that is why I think we won.


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