CENHS & Standing Rock

Posted by on Jan 5, 2017
CENHS & Standing Rock

As the CENHS Predoctoral Fellows reflected on the past year, we devised a plan to write about our favorite podcast episodes in a blog we posted before the Holidays. As we discussed these episodes together, however, we all felt that one episode—or rather, two—deserved special notice. Standing Rock 1 and Standing Rock 2 offered a bridge between the protests in North Dakota and environmental activists and scholars elsewhere. These episodes perfectly embody one of our primary goals at CENHS: to serve as a conduit between scientists, humanists, protesters, and interested listeners everywhere. Standing Rock has shown that there is a vast geographic and political network made up of actors willing to fight for the rights of both marginalized peoples and threatened landscapes. If you have not already listened to these great episodes featuring Nick Estes, Jaskiran Dhillon, and Kristen Simmons, we highly recommend you do.

15824400_10154908434552206_266379893_o-1483298532-3176On Sunday, two Dakota Access Pipeline protesters scaled a rafter at U. S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. This was no random site for the demonstration: the banner was hung within the large, corporate machines of the National Football League and an arena funded by the American banking institution reportedly invested in the pipeline. In bold font, the banner read, “DIVEST,” and underneath these letters, “#NoDAPL.” While the protesters were talked down from the beam and then arrested, the incident signaled the momentum behind the Standing Rock protests, and the power of activism to raise awareness across medias, platforms, and social spaces.

Standing Rock has become a node in a network of environmental justice advocacy, inspiring conversations about water rights well beyond the borders of North Dakota. For instance, in West Texas, the Big Bend Defense Coalition and the Society of Native Nations have opened “Two Rivers Camp,” where they intend to protest the Trans-Pecos pipeline, which would carry natural gas from Texas to Mexico. In Baton Rouge, Bold Louisiana is making an effort to suspend the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. In fact, the Camp of the Sacred Stones has recently published an online article detailing ten indigenous and environmental struggles inspired by Standing Rock’s model, all of which they encourage supporting in the coming year.

What began at Standing Rock has traveled and evolved, redrawing the territories of rights and rearticulating the aims of current environmentalism. In a letter to the editor of The Washington Post (1953), Rachel Carson presciently wrote,

The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth — soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife. To utilize them for present needs while insuring their preservation for future generations requires a delicately balanced and continuing program, based on the most extensive research. Their administration is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics.

This is why Standing Rock exists. To move admittedly through, but also beyond, “a matter of politics.” After all, the Dakota Access Pipeline is far more than an economic or political force. The protests arose because the standing-rock-kid-with-fist_h_0pipeline’s presence threatens a way of life, contaminates hard-won territory, and taps into the vital question of our times: namely, how do we talk about the environment without resorting to a language of mere politics or resources? CENHS is committed to exploring the possibilities of renewable energy sources and finding real-world solutions to the environmental and economic pressures of the twenty-first century. And yet, we are equally committed to a discourse of rights, justice, and conservation brought so sharply into focus by the men, women, and even children standing on the front lines of protesting sites around the world.

With 2017 underway, we must remain stalwart in our commitment to these questions and their potential solutions. We must educate and be educated, bringing together a diversity of opinions, collating the facts and figures, and engaging in conversations that truly hold the power to bring about change. Speaking personally, the CENHS podcast has introduced me to voices across countless fields and disciplines, and brought the major environmental issues of our day into clearer view—especially through these compelling updates from Standing Rock. I encourage everyone to listen to these episodes, and then listen to them again.

For Further Reading:

Sierra Crane-Murdoch’s excellent New Yorker update from Standing Rock.
Rachel Carson’s original 1962 publication of “Silent Spring,” also for The New Yorker.
Kate Harris and Michael Gonchar’s New York Times piece about how to teach Standing Rock.
David Hunn’s Houston Chronicle report on the pipeline protests in West Texas.


Clint Wilson III is a CENHS predoctoral fellow, a Diana Hobby editorial fellow for Studies in English Literature: 1500–1900, and a PhD student in English at Rice University. His research explores the intersection of race, politics, and toxicity in the modernist imaginary, as well as the larger study of contamination in the environmental humanities.