“Standing Rock is everywhere right now,” says Judith LeBlanc of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, talking about how on Thursday, February 2, hundreds of people marched in downtown Seattle in support of the Seattle City government resolution to divest from Wells Fargo. In this interview, LeBlanc, the director of the Native Organizers Alliance, shares her thoughts on the current state of organizing in Standing Rock.
Sarah Jaffe: What is going on at Standing Rock?
Judith LeBlanc: Standing Rock is everywhere and it is a beautiful thing because water gives us life and water has become — because of what has happened at Standing Rock — a symbol for all that is sacred and important for humanity and for Mother Earth. We have an organized approach to moving the battle for Standing Rock to the other reservations of the Oceti Sakowin and to spread the organizing all across the country, because tens of thousands of people have gone through the Oceti Sakowin camp and have become a part of this magic moment in Indian country. The Oceti Sakowin elders who came together for the first time since the Battle of the Little Bighorn extinguished the fire that had been burning to guide the prayers of the camp, to guide the way the camp existed. They now are planning to visit each of the territories of the Oceti Sakowin to fortify the resistance to potential takeovers of our land and the infringement on our sovereignty.
Every social movement going into new stages is never smooth or even. In the last few days, some of those in the camp who want to remain in the area built another camp outside of the Oceti Sakowin camp a little ways down the road. There were many people arrested as a result.
One of the difficulties that we face in Indian Country is that the pipeline for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is one major issue, but there are other many, many major issues that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is working on all at once. The median income at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is a little over $13,000. There are key issues of health care and economic development and education. In many ways, I think the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has really been showing how difficult and how important it is to build unity in support of protecting our larger rights — Indian Country-wide right to protect our sovereignty — and that is what the fight in stopping the pipeline was about. Because when the Bismarck folks said “No” to the pipeline, their “No” stuck. When the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said “No,” the Energy Transfer Partners said, “Well, anyway …” and acted as if they could build this pipeline.
We have run up against a very difficult situation with the Trump administration being elected to office. One of the senators from North Dakota, very pro-pipeline, has become the chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate. We are up against a situation where it is very hard to see how the pipeline will be stopped, unless we continue to put the pressure where it needs to be, on the 17 banks that have invested, [and] continue to pressure the Trump administration to not violate the law and proceed with the environmental impact study that was mandated under the Obama administration. It is a tough fight in the next days ahead. It will be determined by whether or not the government violates the will of the people who have been in solidarity with Standing Rock and the 17,000,000 people along the shores of the river.