Let me begin by thanking you all for traveling to be here this week. I know many of you have made great sacrifices to travel to both Standing Rock and now to Washington DC, and let me tell you that without each and every one of these individual sacrifices, we would not have made it as far as we have today.
We have faced one obstacle after another and these obstacles are punctuated by a variety of slights and defeats, but it is not over. We are not defeated. We are not victims. An obstacle is also an opportunity. Together, we confront these obstacles; embrace these opportunities. Together, we rise.
Today, it is not only we Native Americans that are being ignored and pushed aside in favor of the interests of another. Many of our ally communities are experiencing what we have been for centuries: our ways of life are being destroyed, dictated, limited, and manipulated at the whim of the federal government.
For Natives, treaties were signed and laws were made, but they were summarily destroyed or abrogated when it became merely inconvenient or undesirable to those in charge. For all of us, laws were put in place to respect freedom and equality for all, and each week we see more and more of these basic human rights summarily dismissed by a distant and ruthless administration.
For all American citizens today, and for us Native Americans, for a very long, long, time—the question has been, why? How? What could possibly justify such treatment and dismissal of basic human respect? They call it the Doctrine of Discovery. In the United States judicial system, the foundational case of not only Federal Indian law, but property law—is based upon the premise that it is not the Native inhabitants of the land who determine its fate. Instead, that decision-making power lies with whichever conquering European Nation “possesses” it. Whichever legitimate Nation “discovers” it then gains control, and the rights of the Native Nations are “inherently diminished.”
There has never been a legitimate legal justification for taking, defining, or diminishing Native Nations. Yet our own legal system is founded upon a hasty, religious-based notion of discovery that distinctly creates two classes of people. Those who belong to the conqueror, and those who do not.
From the very beginning, those seeking to build an empire described our ancestors as “limited owners” or mere occupants of the land. They were free to do as they willed. Centuries later, we still see this happening. We see the alleged minority community interests of Bismarck, North Dakota outweighing the interests of our entire tribe. We see corporations being allowed to take shortcuts with the federal government that bypass regulations put in place to protect basic human health.
We see this everywhere. Many tribes across this country and Indigenous Nations around the world are struggling with this very same problem—the imperialistic, conquistador spirit is so deeply embedded in Western and capitalistic society that hundreds of years later, our government is using the exact same arguments to disavow the safety and well-being of entire populations. Not only do they disrespect people of a different origin, they disrespect the treaty rights retained by the original Americans.
We are in dark and unknown territory. Very real threats to our way of life and our freedom are being issued daily, and we are facing a realistic dismantling of our country as we know it.
Fellow Americans; allies—I stand with you. I hope that you understand that this is the way my fellow Native Americans have felt for centuries. Now we are all in the same boat. We are facing a regime that has no regard for American values, and does not hesitate to fly in the face of the law to benefit the immature antics of an unhinged leader and his moneyed friends.
We are here to resist hate and fear. All around the country we see protests and marches, it is obvious that we are at a tipping point where we must inevitably stand up for what is right. Never before in Indian Country have we experienced the level of public awareness and the strength in diverse numbers that we see now. We have reached a critical moment in time where citizens are realizing that we must stand for the core of humanity.
The Standing Rock movement marks a turning point in history not only for tribes, but for every American, because the heart of our movement is now the heart of the resistance. We want and need this movement to live, to build, to resist, and ultimately to succeed. No community should have their interests, public safety, or wellbeing tossed aside because of the interests of corporations or the politically connected. Tribes; immigrants; women; people of color; your average, hard-working American: we are all in this together.
We are in the 21 st century. This is no longer a matter of explorers and imperialists versus savages and infidels. We are all Americans and above all, we are all human. We all deserve to be included; to be respected, and to have our basic rights considered when a corporation seeks to carry out an action that could potentially cause harm to our citizens. At this point in history, we need to be considering our planet and natural resources above all else. We need to ensure the future of our children.
We have fallen prey to this misguided and unfounded system long enough. It is time we stand up and demand and our rights and considerations be treated with the respect and deference afforded any other sovereign. We are on the cusp of real change. You stood with Standing Rock and now I ask you to stand with our Indigenous communities around the globe. Together, we rise.