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The White Horse and the Humvees—Standing Rock Is Offering Us a Choice


The White Horse and the Humvees—Standing Rock Is Offering Us a Choice

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Kathleen Dean Moore

Two lines, facing each other on a North Dakota highway. On one side, concrete barriers protect a row of armored vehicles and helmeted police with assault rifles. On the other, a young man rides a white horse whose legs are stained with blood. A woman, wearing a scarf to protect her lungs from tear gas, wafts sage smoke over a boy to give him strength, wash away hate, and remind him of his sacred purpose.

Here, on a highway stretching across trampled prairie grass, the fundamental contest of our time is playing out.


I also find myself thinking about how the people in these emblematic struggles resulting in 'standoffs' couch their personal identities. Notable being that a "force" for enforcement, at numerous levels (an army or city, regional, county, state, national and increasingly businesses with 'forces' for hire, etc ) can be inserted regardless of the actual legality of the interests they are ostensibly protecting.
What does it actually mean when the legacy of extractive industry extracts value from both elements of living biomes and human lives that are part of human society and that this is the dominant premise of the institutional power that holds as its primary goal the private wealth, which neither of the former will will enjoy according to their actual value.
To me there is a ubiquitous and widely accepted yet profoundly disturbing component inserted into the architecture of service in this and other institutional premises. Consider, for example, the institution of "vacation". The tacit, unquestioned assertion is a prior understanding that a 'job' requires such a degree of extraction from one's life that one needs to vacate it to make life worth living. Extraction of value comes in numerous guises and forms.


Now this is an article I can get my teeth into !

Yes - two worldviews.

But the world view of Nature - of mankind as a part of nature - is not new, nor is it relegated to the Native American communities.

It's sort of like that penny, which keeps turning up where you least expect it.

I just read a biography of Alexander von Humboldt:

"The Invention of Nature", by Andrea Wulf (2016), about the explorer Alexander von Humboldt, an extra-ordinary man by any measure.

Then there is the seminal legal argument of Professor of Law Christopher Stone:

"Should Trees Have Standing?" (1972).

No doubt one could go back as far as the Greek classic period, or to Vedic India, or China's ancient regimes, and find this 'penny' - this view of nature.

Or one could simply return to nature, as a mountaineer, for seven years, as I did - on my own nickel, i.e., not for profit, to gain this same insight.

In fact - so common is this view - so easily re-acquired if you will, well, it becomes a pattern that is telling us, I think, that it is more or less hardwired into the human psyche, and only extraordinary efforts to damage and control the human psyche, such as that conveniently provided by civilization and institutional religions can pervert this worldview.

How many guides and mountaineers in the Canadian Rockies, in the American southwest, in deepest Mexico, have I met who are of this normal view - that the natural world is part and parcel of who we are - that without challenge and travel, life is diminished - and the zest for life nearly extinguished - hence the millennial view - of our present society - as Zombies - not so far from the truth.

Closer to home, perhaps, is a great majority of the scientific community, whose job it is, after all is said and done, to become intimate with nature, the natural world.

Read "How to Find a Habitable Planet", by the American scientist James Kasting, or read or view the works and videos of the great French explorer Jacques Cousteau, or Carl Sagan, or Michael Mann, Al Gore, and on and on.

In fact, it is looking very much like the only people who do not hold this worldview are the damaged and impaired.

As indeed they are.

Power and privilege appears to be either a magnet for these diseased human beings, or there is a series of filters which prevent all but the diseased and aberrant personalities of the world from acceding to the rank of CEO or major politician, or billionaire.

I won't be misled by the words of these people - I look for actions which speak for themselves.

Leadership by example.

PS: We have been having an "Indian Summer" up here north of the medicine line, just north of Montana & the Dakotas - a tribute I think to the pervasive influence of the Native Americans on all of us 'newcomers'.

What's that word I just learned: Alafia ?


That is a beautifully phrased piece by these two protectors--and great comments here, as well. This kind of thought and dialog and action to protect by the NODAPL citizens, and the responses by so many around the world, is so elevating. It gives hope. Thank you.


In a recent book I just read, "The Apache Wars" (2016), by the American historian Paul Andrew Hutton, it appears there were similar ideas back then, in the late 1800's, from Americans 'back east', supporting the native peoples out west, who were being put on reservations, the treaties being almost instantly trashed, etc...

Again - two worldviews in contact - struggling mightily.

In the heat of the moment, it is usually unclear who is right and who is wrong, if logic and legalities only are considered.

But somewhere inside us all, or so I believe, is an inbuilt compass for right and wrong.

Universally, breaking one's own word is destructive to the individual who acts in this manner.

Yes, all is not black and white - there is the truism that 'all is fair in love and war' - but even so - you can tell by the stories that are enshrined in our mythologies that we admire most those few who are true, not merely triumphant.

Look at Hollywood - not really a strange place to look, for there are indeed artists there - truth seekers. See the eternal message in Star Wars, Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Geronimo:An American Legend. Make allowance for the theater - the obvious inaccuracies which seep in - look to THE MESSAGE entrained in these stories. They are stories about humans, about human nature - in a very dangerous world - then and now. As Black Elk once said about his people's oral history:

'I don't know if these things really happened, but if you think about it - you can see they are true.'

Wasn't it Simon and Garfunkel who sang to us, seemingly so long ago, that in politics, 'no matter who you vote for - you lose'.

I won't belabor the point.

It is uplifting to see individuals trying - even though failure is so often the result.

But really - how can you be said to fail if you are being true to yourself?


Yes, I agree, and thanks for writing in response.