Standing Rock November 15 2016

Picture by Leslie Peterson on Flickr

I’ve been wanting to write about Standing Rock for a while, but I couldn’t seem to find the right framework. Some time ago I decided I was going to dedicate a series of posts to the 4 cardinal points: after expressing my considerations on an archetypal South and North, I have long looked for a source of inspiration to talk about the West.

I have put some care in following the story of the struggle of the North Dakota Sioux in Standing Rock to prevent the construction of a pipeline that would invade their lands and cause significant environmental risk to the drinking water reserve not only of the reservation itself, but to all the basin of the Missouri River. I have read with disgust about how treaties with the Indian Nations are still being ignored (there would be much to write about the genocide enacted against the indigenous nations), and sighed with relief at the news that an environmental impact study has finally been requested before the final approval of the project, and that the voices of the Sioux (incredibly peaceful and non-violent) have been heard.dapl route

This victory deserves celebration in itself, but from the archetypal standpoint, I see some kind of “Spirit of the West” (in philosophical terms) not so much in the story of this battle, but in the context itself. The water protectors that have stood for months in the North Dakota plains have not only resisted to rubber bullets, water cannons, tear gas, stun grenades and even the dogs that security used against them – no, their camp is also resisting (along with protesters from the whole world and US veterans expressing their support) to a blizzard at -25 °C (-13 °F).

And in this fact I found what I was looking for, the epiphany which revealed to me an archetype and a deeper story, connected to the anthropological dichotomy between the nomad and settler animus; these modern nomads (by force or tradition), a window on our not-so-far past, are not afraid of nature because they adapt to it. They will resist any storm that might tear down their tipi, and build it again and again, maybe with the help and support of the entire tribe. In a possible catastrophe triggered by global warming, they will survive.

In  the fragility of a settler culture in the face of the unstoppable force of nature, vindication is found on both the cultural and practical level for nomadic populations, individuals scorned by contemporary society in the Americas but also in Europe (where gypsy populations suffer from an enduring stigma), hunter-gatherers often oppressed by agricultural/industrial cultures. In any scenario which takes climate disaster into account, these peoples are not a part of history to preserve for “archaeological” value: they could be our (sustainable) future.

Videography on Standing Rock: