Peter Dougherty and Elliott Adams are in Standing Rock, North Dakota
as an MPT International Exploratory Team.
Our first day on the ground at Standing Rock. Following the blizzard there is snow on the ground, but traveling in fine. Today was 28 degrees all day with a fine rain. Spirits at the camp are high and despite the orders to evacuate preparation for winter at the camp is moving ahead.
We have been asked why we treat this MPT team as an International Exploratory Team. In the geopolitical sense the Sioux people living in Standing Rock view themselves as a separate sovereign nation. It is self evident that they were a nation before the Europeans (us) moved in. The US negotiated and signed nation to nation treaties with them. Legally the US views them as a “domestic dependent nation” (a legal creation of the Supreme Court to justify what we had done and were doing) but still a nation.
It is informative, if ancillary, to look at the creation of the legal idea “domestic dependent nation.” The US Supreme Court under Justice John Marshall (1808-1835) was faced with cases involving the conundrum of this nation being built on the lands of the indigenous people. To say those lands belonged to the indigenous people would be to say the Supreme Court and even the young nation of USA did not exist. But facts on the ground meant the court could not say the indigenous people didn't exist or weren't a nation. With no legal basis to use in what are now called the “Marshall Trilogy” the court resorted to old European religious doctrines like the Doctrine of Discovery (which says any land discovered by European Christians which is occupied by non-Christians may be taken and the inhabitants who will not convert to Christianity may be killed or enslaved). The Marshall Trilogy dressed up religious principles as US law.
And this team is also like other international teams because we are working across a cultural divide. We all think of the cultural differences between the US and Spain or France or even England, yet our culture is a direct derivative of those cultures and only varies in small ways. With the Native Americans the differences of culture are much greater. While they have all learned our language, the words and ideas have different meanings because their culture is different. The culture we have grown up in is a deeply colonization culture. Through the brightly colored glasses of our colonization culture it is hard to see the indigenous culture clearly. I do not pretend to understand their culture and it is possible that I never could, but even on a casual level one sees a difference in importance they put on people, the role of elders, the way they their religion is part of everything around them, their understanding of time, their relationships with their ancestors. All of these things change what simple words or casual acts meant.
This is an international team in every sense except that we - the U.S.culture - have internalized the idea that they are the “domestic dependent nation.”