Jacobs: Is there a way past Standing Rock?

As a journalist, I believe that all times are interesting, but some are more interesting than others. These are the most interesting that I remember. English has a word for these times. They are fraught-as my dictionary explains, "bearing promise...


As a journalist, I believe that all times are interesting, but some are more interesting than others. These are the most interesting that I remember. English has a word for these times. They are fraught-as my dictionary explains, "bearing promise or menace."

Certainly this is true on the national scene, but it is also true right here in the home state.

We North Dakotans seem to have stumbled into a situation at Standing Rock. However you feel about the rightness of the cause or the tactics on either side, Standing Rock has changed the dynamics of race relations in North Dakota.

That's all that's clear, though.

Native people have demanded to be heard-and not heard only about the location of a pipeline, but about history, land and spirituality. What that means, we don't yet know.


Some truths are immutable. The past is past. Native and white people share this space. There is a disproportionate distribution of power between white and Native.

The great challenge is to accept the past, to admit that injustice cannot now be undone, to work together to ameliorate conditions as we find them and to build a relationship that we all respect.

Another challenge is to avoid provocation for its own sake. For law enforcement, that's means imposing only the force needed to protect lives and property and to keep peace. For protesters, it means no flagrant challenges.

All of this will take leadership of a different kind than we saw from legislators last week. Canceling the traditional speech by a Native leader during opening week of the legislative session is not a gesture of peace, but a gesture of defiance. More than that, it is a gesture of fear.

We white folks have got to get over our fear of what native people are telling us about how this situation became so fraught. This doesn't mean that we have to tolerate trespass, riot and rustling. Those things are illegal.

It does mean that we have to get very close to our consciences-individual and societal. We need to hear what Native people have to say. We need to listen. We need to understand.

We need to revise our attitudes toward Native people. Racial attitudes in North Dakota are deeply ingrained, and they are mostly not very accepting. Anyone listening to comments about the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo controversy recognizes that. Anyone overhearing a conversation about the pipeline protest in a small town cafรฉ knows it, too.

We need to concede that truth.


We need to resist these attitudes-in ourselves-every day.

It's hard to see the resolution of the impasse at Standing Rock, if we look only at the narrow issue of a pipeline route. The Dakota Access Pipeline is an important infrastructure project. The nation would demand the oil even if we North Dakotans didn't want to provide it. Nor is there anything especially egregious about the location of the pipeline, given the safety features built into it. Wherever it's located, it surely is safer than transportation by rail.

Of course, the protest at Standing Rock is not about a pipeline. It is much more: a cry from the heart of indigenous people who have come to assert their humanity and to demand our attention.

Nor is the protest limited to Standing Rock. An awful lot has been said and written about people coming from outside the state to join the protest. It's true that the vast majority of people arrested have been from other places. Last week, there was a flurry about protesters being paid.

Fact is, opinion is a commodity in our country. I am paid to share my opinions. Scott Hennen, the talk show host who raised this issue, is paid for his.

This protest is much more than a local issue. It is about Native heritage, Native rights and Native identity. It's a demand to be heard.

How we North Dakotans respond will say a great deal about us. So far, what is being said is not very pleasant hearing. We can argue that it's unjust, of course, but the injustice of an inaccurate television report? Well, that hardly merits mention in the greater context that the Standing Rock protests have raised.

So, what is the way forward?


That's what we all need to think about, especially the new governor, especially the legislative leadership.

It's not too late to open our ears and our hearts.

It's not too late to avoid the menace in this situation. It's not too late to grasp the promise.

Disclaimer: This is a poor effort, I know, but citizens! We have to try.

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