By Crystal Willcuts, Indian Country Today, June 20, 2011
Do you know what it means to be un-American? I’ll tell you. To be un-American means to be respectful, humble, spiritual, truthful, caring, and selfless. To be American means to be immature, greedy, deceitful, disrespectful, arrogant and egocentric.
Nakota Energy has drilled two exploratory oil wells near Bear Butte, a sacred site in the Black Hills and a historic landmark. They want to drill 22 more wells. Drilling devastates the earth. I don’t care how loudly people say it supports jobs. It is hazardous to the environment and harmful to health—an activity that has a very low Life Sustaining Index (LSI). What does it matter if you have a job when you don’t have a clean planet to live on? Drilling puts hundreds of carcinogenic chemicals into the ground. Chemicals the oil companies don’t want us to know about. Chemicals that seep into ground water, water that when it comes out of your taps can also catch fire.
The South Dakota State Board of Minerals and Environment ruled that Nakota Energy can only drill 5 wells. Janeen Norstergaard, who owns the land near Bear Butte and where the proposed oil fields would be located says the issue is “blown out of proportion.” I wonder how flippant she will be when her tap water is no longer safe to drink or even stand near.
Meade County State’s Attorney Jesse Sondreal feels the ruling is “possibly unconstitutional and definitely un-American.” The Meade County Commission is moving to reverse the ruling because “they are not a state that can afford to diminish [their] opportunities in job growth and economic development.” If the ruling is reversed Nakota Energy will be able to drill 24 wells with one third of the oil field within the boundaries of the state park. The Commission feels Norstergaard’s property rights are being violated.
What about our rights to sacred sights such as Bear Butte? People and politicians got very upset and demonized a mosque that was to be erected near ground zero. Why should native people be subject to the American idols of capitalism (i.e. oil wells) in our sacred places? It shows a flagrant disrespect and contempt for our spiritual practices.
If there was oil under Washington, D.C., ground zero, and every church, temple, and Christian alter in the U.S. would they drill in those places? Or how about the Vatican, the Pyramids, or Stonehenge? There are tons of sacred places. Why not start drilling at Mt. Rushmore?
I try to stay positive but I don’t have good feelings for those who worship capitalism. Coal, energy, and oil are the new gold nuggets and there is a fever going around. The dominant society is sick with greed and contempt for the earth because they don’t see the earth as the indigenous people do. The planet native people revere as a mother represents only an object to be used and exploited, a means to more wealth for the insatiable money worshippers. “Drill Baby Drill” is in direct opposition to “Mitakuye Oyasin”. Can there be any common ground between a society dependent on an extraction-based economy and native people when our fundamental values are so glaringly different?
There is a huge coal-powered plant going up here in southwest Virginia. Every time I pass by, it reminds me of Mordor from the Lord of the Rings; ugly, imposing, threatening. Challenging discussions are met with, “Hey, it will create jobs and isn’t that the most important thing? Who cares about the environmental effects or health problems? Money is what’s most important.” For these people, the disaster in Japan was too long ago to remember.
Capitalism is wrong. Continuous growth is unnatural and unsustainable. Caring only about accumulating wealth is wrong. Caring only about oneself is wrong. Not leaving a clean habitable planet for future generations, well I don’t even know how to describe that. Seeing the ground we walk upon as our precious, beautiful Mother was and still is what we believe in. We are all connected and to be a part of the circle means to support and protect those in the circle.
I have an 18 year old son and a 1 year old daughter. I worry about what kind of life they will have and pray that they will not have to worry about things like clean air and clean water. And I pray for everyone’s children. People are trading in their safety, health and home, their very futures, for a quick dollar, leaving our children with nothing. Children don’t deserve that, but it seems to be the American way.
Crystal Willcuts Cole, Mnicoujou Lakota and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, was born in Rapid City, South Dakota and is an artist, writer, and poet currently residing in Big Stone Gap, Virginia with her husband and two children.