Over the weekend, thousands of veterans joined Native “water protectors” and their allies to defend them from highly aggressive police tactics on the ground in North Dakota, where protesters have gathered for months to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. By Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers had temporarily denied a final permit to the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, to finish construction.
On Monday, a group of veterans led by Wesley Clark Jr., one of the organizers of Veterans Stand for Standing Rock event, apologized to the Lakota Sioux tribe for the military’s historical oppression and exploitation of Natives. The veterans, organized by rank, stood before tribe elders to atone for the American government’s past behavior. Clark Jr. told the elders:
“We came here to be the conscience of the nation. And within that conscience, we must first confess our sins to you, because many of us, me in particular, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land, and then we took your children, then we tried to take your language, and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you and that the Creator gave you.e didn’t respect you. We polluted your earth.”
The veterans began to kneel as Clark Jr. concluded his statement:
“We’ve hurt you in so many ways, but we’ve come to say that we are sorry, we are at your service, and we beg for your forgiveness.”
Clark Jr. approached the elders as one placed their hand on his forehead to signify acceptance of the veterans’ apology. The Natives watching chanted, beat drums, and cried out in approval.
“World peace, world peace,” Chief Leonard Crow Dog said, a sentiment the crowd echoed. “We will take a step. We are Lakota sovereign nation. We were the nation, and we’re still a nation. We have a language to speak. We have preserved the caretaker position. We do not own the land. The land owns us.”
Though the Army Corps of Engineer’s decision to halt the pipeline is a great victory, it is no guarantee the battle is over. In fact, Energy Transfer Partners has already stated it intends to complete the pipeline as planned, in spite of Sunday’s ruling. President-elect Donald Trump, who owned stock in the company until recently, has said he supports completion of the pipeline.
“Evening after today’s small victory we can say thanks, but remember we have been down this road before. I know that Dakota Access will continue to work. The lights are still on above the camp. Morton County has not removed the barriers, they are moving in troops by Fort Rice. They think, ‘These people will leave the camps and we will be able to continue to work.’ Never trust these crooks; we have already seen what they will do to our people. Make them accountable…we need everyone on the ground until every pipe [is] removed.”