Wednesday, December 7, 2016


I grew up in Western North Dakota.

This in no way qualifies me to make any statements about the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Further disclosure: my father, for 30+ years, made a living and put food on our table by hauling crude oil in a truck. You see, the oil industry didn't just show up in North Dakota recently--it's been there for years. My parents were married in 1958 and my father started his job around the same time. He came home smelling of oil. During one of the downturns in the industry in the region, he was laid off (loyalty is a one-sided thing to a corporation) and ended up hauling farm-related things--grain, fertilizer, etc--for the last several years of his career before retiring.

When I think about, and talk about DAPL, I do it from a weird place. I'm a white woman, aged 50, raised for 18 years in a place where white people--and this is the nicest possible way I can say this--felt no need to be kind to Native American people. There were reservations around us, and those reservations were generally looked upon with disdain, at least by my parent's circle of friends. Or hell, maybe it was just my family--it's all a blur anymore. That was 40 years ago. But I do know that I've heard fine Christian women and men say things like, "nothing so useless as a drunk Indian," (that one sticks out in my head for some reason) and many other, similar things, while their friends and acquaintances nodded in agreement. This was the norm when I was growing up.

I didn't think much about this. I felt didn't have to--I was not a person who experienced it, and in typical fashion ('Merica! Fuck yeah!), didn't worry about it. I moved away from there and had very little contact with anyone who felt like that, nor anyone who was on the receiving end of that racist bullshit. I'm not sure I even recognized it as racist bullshit until one day many years later.

I was sitting at lunch at an outdoor table with three or four other women from my work. We were in Edina, MN, a "nice" suburb, where moneyed people lived, at an office building of a major corporation where we all worked. I don't remember how we got to the subject, but I remember one woman, an Indian (from India) admitted that she had seen people in her family behave in a racist way and asked if any of us had experienced any situations in our families like that.

Suddenly, I remembered. I remembered all of my youth and going to the reservation to play basketball games against their school, and their facilities were nowhere near as nice as ours so we hated to go there. We we snobs about it. I remembered the one family that lived in our town that was native, and how people had a certain opinion of them and when anyone had a positive experience with one of them, they would say things like, "He's *actually* pretty nice," as if that was not normal behavior. I remembered, for years, people saying to avoid the reservation, that it was a bad place, with bad people. I remember being shocked when I found out one of my high school classmates had moved there. I remembered the time someone quizzed my brother, a park ranger at an historic fort, about how the natives had been treated by the white people who came there to settle, and I remember him downplaying it like it was not that bad. I remembered the person who uttered the words about the "useless drunk Indian".

I remembered all of it, and I told her, "My family--and really a lot of people in that part of the state--have a real bad view of Native Americans there." I relayed some stories.

I didn't mention that I had, myself, held certain opinions. I felt myself above it--I had moved away from that life and the people who were like that. I left because I wasn't like them. I didn't feel like that.

There was the time on a morning radio show, years before that sunny little lunch in Edina, when my co-host and I were talking about obscure laws that were still on the books. It was one of those morning show bits that people drag out from time to time because it's reliably ridiculous and gets a laugh. For some reason, I decided to use that live mic to bring up an obscure law that I knew about in the state of Montana, 4 miles from where I grew up. The law states, in effect: "Seven or more Indians are considered a raiding or war party... and you can shoot them."

(That law is still on the books, by the way.)

I talked about that on the air--about how ridiculous it was. What happened after that? Well, I got into a shit storm with the local tribe who was pissed that I should say such a thing, even though I was discussing it as an absurdity. I was so angry with them for being mad at me for "nothing". After all, I was on their side, I thought. Me, the liberal lady on the morning show at a classic rock station--the exception to every other fucking person in that building, and *I* was the one being called a racist? Unreal. That one burned. I was pissed off.

So I didn't like them for a good long while. They had done me wrong, got me yelled at by my boss, blah, blah, blah.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I should mention that I didn't need their complaints to get me yelled at. I was an aggressive personality on the air--I felt I had to be, as a woman trying to carve out a place in a business where the women sounded alike, to me. Women on the radio back then had one job, and that job was to laugh at the man's jokes. I was brazen in my disregard of that. I was funnier and smarter than they were--why the fuck were they not tasked with laughing at *my* jokes?

All of this was quite controversial at a classic rock station, which is an incredibly conservative place. To add the the misery, I had a hatred for the format and no understanding of people who would listen to it--classic rock was never my thing, and honestly never will be--I'm a new music person. Somehow, I was popular enough among listeners (not too much--just enough), but the rest of the staff couldn't stand me and were happy to throw me under the bus. The boss at the time was probably itching for a reason to yell at me. Offending a major client (casino) was just the thing.

I spent an hour on the phone with a representative of the tribe, pleading my case. He was not moved. The next day I grudgingly spoke my non-apology apology ("sorry if you were offended, etc,") into that same fucking microphone and after a cooling off period, went back to my usual life of not thinking about natives. I had no opinion, and felt no reason to develop one since I was never in contact with any, that I was aware of. Fairly typical behavior for a person not directly affected by racism.

Occasionally, a thing would happen that involved natives in a clash, like when the University of North Dakota changed the name of their school mascot from The Fighting Sioux, or when some dingbat white folks at that same school had t-shirts printed up depicting, you guessed it, a "drunken Indian," in part because they didn't accept the name change. I could always see where the natives were coming from and I could empathize. My argument was always that yes, white people came here and defeated them in war, which is historically accurate, but ever since then, we've been trying to demoralize, which is completely unnecessary and cruel.

Fast forward many years, and DAPL is happening. Family and friends (all from North Dakota, naturally) on social media begin using their platform to call bullshit to the tribe, post "news" pieces about how wrong they were to be doing that they were doing, talking about how no one has any respect for law enforcement, and, well...the usual shit you see the opposition do any time there is a protest.

The local voices were saying completely different things than the national and international observers.

I sat here and said nothing at all.

Part of that was because I don't particularly believe in social media activism. Sure, I'll spout off an opinion now and again, or point and laugh at something ridiculous, but it's in the interest of conversation or telling a joke, not because I think it will make a difference. I believe the most accurate observation about social media activism is the cartoon of the plane full of "Likes" (thumbs up symbols from Facebook, in this case) arrived in storm-ravaged Haiti. Completely worthless. So I don't use Facebook in that way and don't do much or any of that on Twitter, either. I didn't "Je suis Paris", didn't do the Ice Bucket Challenge, and I have never added a flag overlay on my profile picture.

Another reason why I said nothing was because if I have learned one thing in this election year, it's, "Don't engage." Don't get into it with anyone--people who are more angry than you will rip you to shreds in a heartbeat. There are people posting other people's home address on "kill boards" and all kinds of insane shit--not worth it.

But even beyond those two usual reason, I found myself unable to lock in to how I felt about DAPL. It's one thing not to talk about it, but quite another to find yourself so disengaged that you can't pick a side.

I have no loyalty to the people who side with the oil company (save for the previously mentioned parental employment situation). I do not align with oil companies on the political spectrum. Not my thing. I do drive a car, though, and I suppose I use a a typical American amount of stuff made from petroleum products, so I'm your basic hip-hip-hippy-hypocrite. This doesn't mean I have to like the fact that they seem to do whatever the fuck they want with little concern for the environment and we tax-payers support them with incentives to supplement their billions in profits. Screw that.

I also have no real reason not to believe what the natives or other observers were saying, other than my own history of mistrust--of being "on their side" and still getting kicked in the head. I suppose that's the shit that catches you. Not a one of us is free from our own emotions.

Perhaps it is a sign of news overload. I've stuffed my face with so much information that I'm unable to form my own thoughts anymore.

It just seems so...surreal. My mind isn't clicking in to it. In an exhausting year, it's just another thing to exhaust me. My cynicism says, "What fucking difference does it make?" even after the Army Corps of Engineers pulled the permit and decided they needed to fully examine other options for the pipeline.

There is a guy I follow on Twitter--political talk and humor, mostly, with a touch of music. All the same stuff as me, and he's a college professor. He's funny and smart and quick. After the election and ever since, he's been quite despondent. His jokes are now all a version of, "Why bother exercising--nothing matters anymore." That's where I am, too, although I don't really share that online anywhere, and I do exercise because I'd just be wallowing and huge if I didn't.

It's not even that I was ride or die for Hillary, because I didn't feel that I was. I thought she made sense as the choice and I did vote for her, but again...didn't change my profile pic to the "H" overlay, or anything like that.

When the news came out about the Corps re-routing or re-studying or pulling permits, or whatever they did at DAPL, people were celebrating, and I was over here thinking, "This doesn't mean anything."

I am tired of it all being about who gets points on social media (and, my sincere apologies to Chris Hardwick--your points are good points. All of them).

Of course one can argue that water is more important than "points" and racism is a serious problem--both of those things are very true. But where are we having these discussions?  Just talking amongst ourselves on social media...we accomplish about as much as the two old guys talking politics at the local cafĂ© over a cup of coffee.

Some people got up off their asses and blocked a bridge and a thing happened--that's good. They unfortunately attracted an element of moronic "do goods" from out of state, looking to score some points. Many of those idiots were horribly unprepared and are now holed up in high school gymnasiums and people's private homes because, oh, by the way, it's fucking COLD during a blizzard in North Dakota, and people die.

Our rush to score is a real brain-eraser.

I can't stop shaking my head and rolling my eyes at us.


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