Weeding Out the Allies from the White Saviors at Standing Rock

Feature image via Joe Brusky/Flickr/CC

I recently published an article on the five things every non-Native should consider before they travel to Standing Rock. Within an hour of it going live I received vile vitriol from white people who claimed that they supported Standing Rock. I was accused of being hostile, aggressive, giving the middle finger to non-Natives, and a racist. These people were angry that they weren’t thanked by the people of Standing Rock for giving money or going to the camps. They were angry that I told them how to behave as allies. They were angry that I demanded that they abide by the tribal leadership and that of the camps. They were angry that I told them to give space to the Native People to process our feelings about this struggle and the many others we’ve faced due to genocide. Basically, they were angry that I called them out on their settler and white privilege instead of coddling them and dropping to my knees to kiss their feet on the very land they enjoy living on due to our people’s destruction and loss.

The same day I was being inundated with verbally violent attacks for my words, the North Dakota government was using chemical warfare on our peaceful Water Protectors. They were outfitted with semi-automatic guns, Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) and helicopters. Law enforcement arrived with an empty bus in order to transport the dozens of our people that they intended to arrest. They impounded cars, confiscated phones, and erased videos of this abuse. Our people had their hands in the air yelling “we’re unarmed” in the hopes that the police wouldn’t shoot them in cold blood for peacefully protecting the water and Native lives. Thankfully, some of the Water Protectors were able to send out videos and photos of these atrocities. Watching these videos cuts deep and hurts me in a way that no white person can ever understand.

Two days earlier on the 26th, President Obama met with many of our tribal leaders at the 8th annual Tribal Leaders Conference in DC as a show of support for the Native community. However, Obama has remained silent regarding all of the abuse we have suffered at Standing Rock. Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton has not commented on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). At the 2016 Democratic National Convention the Democratic Party adopted the strongest pro-Native party platform ever, but the party and the majority of its members have also remained silent during the attacks on our lives. Despite all of this, I’m the “racist” who needs to be sensitive of the needs of every white savior in ameriKKKa.

It is not my job, nor that of any other Indigenous Person, to coddle the feelings of non-Natives. Indigenous People have literally been hunted in the “Americas” for 526 years by white people at the hands of the state. It’s estimated that 4,000 of my Cherokee ancestors died on the Trail of Tears so that the U.S. government, i.e. white people, could further the colonization of our lands, and subsequent slavery of Africans. There’s no way of knowing how many of our women were raped by the U.S. military during the forced removal. Every time I use a $20 bill I have to see the mass murderer responsible for my people’s suffering. Andrew Jackson not only went unpunished for what he did, but is celebrated and is part of the backbone of the U.S. Economy. That’s what racism truly is.

On a daily basis we are being harassed, bullied, raped, kidnapped, sexually trafficked, incarcerated, and murdered. Our children are stolen from us and placed in foster care merely for profit. We have epidemic proportions of suicide, alcoholism, diabetes, food insecurity, starvation, homelessness, high school dropout rates, and a great deal more, all due to colonization and genocide. I spent roughly 10 years working in U.S. politics. I watched non-Natives, including those who call themselves feminists, progressives, and Democrats, stand idly by and ignore our plight. I watched them fetishize us. I watched them actively discriminate and spread hatred about us. I’ve interacted with non-Natives who think going to Standing Rock is some sort of cultural learning experience, activist adventure, or even a vacation. One non-Native activist had the audacity to say to me that “As long as they fed me I’d go. I’m tired of being in DC.” As if Standing Rock is a spa for him to escape the stresses of his daily life.

I’ve heard similar stories from other Native People who were asked questions such as “Will my purse be safe?” or “Are there port-a-potties there?” These questions have not only missed the mark on allyship, but are utterly offensive. If you need a red carpet rolled out for you, a mint on your pillow, and a wall safe to keep your valuables from us “injuns” then you’re not an ally; you’re a racist!

Despite all of the grim and truthful statistics I cited in my article, the so-called allies that read and bashed it decided to focus on their hurt feelings instead of focusing on the importance of what is occurring at Standing Rock, as well as to Native People across the U.S. They were exactly the people I was speaking to in my article. This issue is not about them and their delicate, settler privileged feelings. This is about the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. This is about the people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation. This is about part of a larger movement for the rights of all Indigenous People in the U.S. and across the globe. I will not apologize for not sugarcoating our reality in order to make these settler and white privileged people feel better. Frankly, I have neither the time nor the patience. I’d rather use that energy to save Native lives.

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Jen Deerinwater

Jen Deerinwater is a classically trained vocalist vagabond with a love for books, well made martinis, and antique maps. Jen has several degrees from over priced universities and the student loan debt to prove it. She is an out and proud Bisexual, hard Femme, Disabled, and is mixed race Tsalagi-a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. After several years spent in the trenches of American politics you can now find her stirring the pot of radical discourse online. Follow her musings and soap box rants at JenDeerinwater and jendeerinwater on Instagram.

Jen has written 8 articles for us.


    • Google “how to help standing rock,” do the things suggested, and then read her excellent, informative articles on crappy allyship she has observed so you can make sure you’re not that person.

      There is really little need to ask writers questions like this in the age of Google. She’s already doing you a favor by providing this article to you free.

      • I was engaging with the author specifically to generate discussion, which is why we’re here. I didn’t want to swoop in with links after her cutting essay. I was trying to encourage listening, as opposed to spewing my opinions and thoughts and feels all over the place.

        If you feel there’s no need to engage writers, then don’t comment.

        • Perhaps you read this article on a device that didn’t clearly display that the author linked to their earlier article: http://matadornetwork.com/change/5-things-every-non-native-needs-consider-visiting-standing-rock/

          This clearly outlines what allies can do (whether or not they go to Standing Rock in person).

          Sometimes asking someone for a (complex, multi-part) answer to a question that they have already answered can come across as lazy, which may be where V (previous respondent to you) is coming from.

          • I’ve read the article, though I have no financial means of actually visiting Standing Rock. I have already been calling my representatives (for years), calling out racism, and working to further educate myself.

            Again, I was trying to foster discussion via listening. I’ll just shut up and leave now.

        • Joanna, I wanted to reach out and help to answer your question (and if anyone wants to see my POC/indigenous credentials, that’s fine). What you can do to help racial justice causes is exactly what you are doing already. Ask questions, donate what resources you can, and spread awareness. Above all, please don’t let the occasional toxic comment scare you away from supporting a cause. Don’t listen to the negative folks who tell you that you are not
          needed and that deserve to be disrespected in order to prove your commitment to the cause. That’s a load of BS. I don’t speak for all POC (and neither does this
          author!), but I personally want allies on my side who are my equals and who is receptive to constructive feedback. I don’t want white guilt-ridden ally to use as an emotional punching bag.

          • (Sorry for the typos, I’m writing this on my phone. But if you want to message me privately, I’d be happy to talk some more!)

  1. This is an outstanding and inspiring article. Hopefully, it won’t fall on deaf ears for all the white libfems of AmeriKKKa.

  2. This is a great article and I’m saddened and annoyed to hear that your other great article (5 Things Every Non-Native Needs To Know Before Standing Rock) was met with hostility and anger. It wasn’t an aggressive article? And like, super informative!? I’m glad you’re here writing for autostraddle though, and hope the readership hear listens, learns, and respects the work you’re doing.

    • Yeah, the fact that the author was accused of being “racist” and full of “rage” basically illustrates the points the article was making, but those posters probably failed to see that (being so focused on *their* feelings of anger, hurt, and rejection).

    • Ditto? I was thinking of a comment and you put what I was thinking into much more eloquent words than I would have.

  3. Thank you for this. I also appreciated your other article, and I am grateful that you are taking the time to educate others despite the hostility you have received.

  4. Thank you for this and the original article, very helpful/informative, and this trying-to-be-a-good-white-ally is doing her best to listen and learn.

  5. Thank you for this article. I’m learning to be a teacher this year, and the first part of our education was a crash course in multicultural education; it makes me read your words, and imagine how to help my future students — the white ones, the Native American ones — learn about the world they will grow up in.

    Sometimes I try to imagine a more hopeful future society, where there has been some kind of reconciliation and apology for the genocide, for slavery, for the stolen land, where some kind of respect for the beautiful hurt continent, and for each other, just _exists_.

    And of course I wasn’t successful in imagining that: I am not the one who will successfully envision that future, except very naievely.

    But I wonder if someone else, sometime, is going to be able to find and hold that vision, somehow, and move us all towards it.

    • It seems plenty of people outside the native community feel they should be recognized but they just don’t get it. It’s about native lives and culture, not the entitlements and privileges of those who feel they should get special recognition. Because the ‘entitled ones’ in the dominator culture really don’t understand what native people still must endure daily in an ongoing 500 year genocide campaign. In my experience as a white man, they also don’t understand who natives are as a people and what that experience means to them – their culture and it’s traditions, the remnants of which they are still trying to preserve, I would think anyway, after such a long and tragic occupation. Instead, we must do what is best for all and more importantly, do it with future generations in mind.

  6. While I wholeheartedly agree with this article… I have to say… this cause is bigger than any one people. Despite the deplorable actions of our European ancestors… we now have no choice but to share this beautiful country.

    I’m a big ol’ white homo… I do not expect to be embraced when I arrive at camp. I do not expect anyone to fall at my feet. It IS actually offensive to suggest that I do. I hope the food and supplies I bring will be put to good use. I will stay if my presence is beneficial… if not, I will be honored to have seen the largest gathering of Native People of my lifetime… and to learn anything I can from them.

    I am equally disgusted at the thought of a bunch of festival kids roaming around smoking dope and disrespecting the land…

    BUT… hear me out here… Getting pissed because someone asked a simple question like, “are there portapotties” only serves to alienate you and your people. For all you know that person was about to donate portapotties or chemtoilets.

    “This is not a festival.”, is a true statement that passes on no praise nor blame.

    “White hippies stop coming” is a slap in the face to anyone genuinely trying to give assistance.

  7. “. This is about the people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation… I will not apologize for not sugarcoating our reality in order to make these settler and white privileged people feel better… I’d rather use that energy to save Native lives.”

    Then stop wasting energy berating and dehumanising ‘white privileged’.
    I thought it was about the water and the earth, our common ancestor.
    And, by the way, we are all people.
    White or not, I will assert my freedom to define myself outside of the categories and judgements you impose.

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