Dakotas, North America
After months of contentious protest, the illegal intrusion of protected Sioux nation lands is coming to an end. Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners – the oil giants responsible for the egregious exploitation – began removing equipment and materials from the snow covered plains that are protected under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.
“We decided we should leave these people alone,” said Kelcy Warren, chief executive officer of Energy Transfer Partners. “They’ve been battered and abused for centuries,” she continued, “we thought it’d be nice to cut them some slack.”
According to the Fort Laramie Treaty, the Sioux reservation lands are sovereign soil and not technically part of the United States. Members of the Dakota and Lakota tribes have protested the planned construction of an oil pipeline under Lake Oahe – their primary source of water. Every oil pipeline ever constructed in the United States has leaked at some point in its lifetime and the Sioux tribes know their water will eventually be polluted. The oil company’s presence on their land is essentially an invasion of a foreign state, complete with a militarized police force and private security teams armed to the teeth to combat the non-violent protesters. But Kelcy Warren is ready to withdraw the troops.
“It’s the middle of winter. These folks are freezing in sub-zero temperatures, and that’s before we spray them with the water canon,” Warren explained. “The fact of the matter is this is their land. If someone came on your land and sprayed you with a water canon you’d be pretty pissed, right? I know I would. It’s time we recognize their ownership of this land and respect their basic civil liberties.”
But in the starched and bleached settlement of Bismarck, North Dakota, not everyone shares this sentiment. “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island,” said Woodiana Sperlingthorpe, her raspy, throaty voice scratching into the crisp night air. “This land ain’t for no goddamn injuns! This land was made for you and me!” I reminded dear Woodiana of the Fort Laramie Treaty, but she wasn’t swayed from her outright bigotry. “No one ever respected that treaty. C’mon everybody knows that. Can’t abide a treaty signed by Injuns! They ain’t trustworthy!”
“Seein’ as this is Sioux land, we’re not under U.S. jurisdiction. We can do whatever we damn please!”
But others seemed to find a certain irony in big oil’s change of heart regarding the oft-cited treaty. “We’ve been enforcing that treaty since we got here,” says Big Rig Henrietta. Big Rig is a big oil veteran – a company man who has diligently laid pipe for Energy Transfer Partners for the past eight years. “Seein’ as this is Sioux land, we’re not under U.S. jurisdiction. We can do whatever we damn please!” Big Rig lives in one a self-entitled “man camp” just outside Rosebud, South Dakota. It’s a conglomeration of eighty or so trailers and RVs huddled en masse like an overstuffed truck stop peppered in muddy snow. “See what we do in these man camps is break every law we can. We got gamblin’, lawn darts, bare knuckle boxin’, whorin’, meth, Crocus, whatever you want!”
Big Rig lives in one of the self-entitled “man camps” just outside Rosebud, South Dakota. It’s a conglomeration of eighty or so trailers and RVs huddled en masse like an overstuffed truck stop peppered in muddy snow. “See what we do in these man camps is break every law we can. We got gamblin’, lawn darts, bare knuckle boxin’, whorin’, meth, Crocus, whatever you want! Hell we even got sex slaves, wanna see our sex slaves?”
Big Rig takes me deep into the center of the maze of Winnebagos, JayCos, and Heartlands he calls home. He approaches a small tear-drop trailer hooked to the tail of a massive Ford F-350 pickup with a dually rear axle. With one arm he holds up the small trailer’s lift gate, with his other he shines his over-sized flashlight inside, revealing three brown women huddled under quilts. They shiver in the stark cold air of the open night. Big Rig’s smoky breath drifts through the yellow beam of light as he speaks.
“They’re Sioux women,” he explained. “We stole them in the night right off the reservation! Haha ain’t that something? See there ain’t no law out here, in accordance with the Laramie Treaty and all, how ‘bout that? Kidnapping and raping their own women on their own land, just like the white man always done, yeeeehawww!” he exclaimed, slapping his knee in delight. “You oughtta hear their Momma! All sortsa hollerin’ and yelpin’ bout her missin’ daughters and what not. Err’ body ’round town knows them girls is just up in the man camp! They’re just fine, you see? We feed ‘em an’ all.”
But what about the media? I asked Mr. Big Rig if the missing girls had received any attention in the press. “Are you kiddin’ me?” he was quite surprised by the idea. “Remember these are Indians we’re talking about. They’re not American.”
Only a little alarmed, I contacted Kelcy Warren for a second interview and pressed her on the issue of Sioux sex slaves in the man camps.
“Oh that’ll have to stop, too, I suppose,” she told me. “God knows these folks been raped and pillaged long enough. Why it’s damn near tradition in these parts. One thing oil pipes is guaranteed to do is spill. And lonely men is guaranteed to rape. But it’s time we take our business elsewhere.”
But why would big oil suddenly leave the Sioux land when it had proved so easy to exploit it for so long? “Well,” pondered Warren, simmering on the thought for a moment before answering: “I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
by Leonard Lénard
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