“Upon suffering beyond suffering; the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations when all the colours of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again. In that day there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom. I salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you and I am that place within me, we shall be as one.”
– Prophecy of Oglala Chief Crazy Horse
In April 2016, out of one Indian reservation in the Great Plains rose a cry of distress. Perhaps because of the desperation it inhabited, or perhaps as a pay back to years’ worth of injustices done to them, the Lakota people’s cry rising out of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation found answer in an expansive avalanche of international response. Despite centuries worth of treaties breached, continuous forced migration, attempts at assimilation, the Sioux Nation seemed to still have one last fight in them. And soon they would find out that, in this fight, they were not alone. People all over the world, who were feeling helpless in the face of large, powerful corporations exploiting their much needed and diminishing resources owned the Lakota people’s cause. So did the environmentalists who have been warning us for decades as to the potential disasters that awaited the human race if we did not take care of our planet.
Once people started lending an ear to what was happening at Standing Rock, forgotten human rights abuses and stories of massacres buried under thick pages of historical documents written by the colonial masters started emerging. The Lakota, much like most of the native Americans, owned an oral history: culture, language, history, stories and prophecies had managed to pass on from generation to generation. Despite the hardships the families endured in poverty stricken, suicide-laced, addiction-enforced reservations in which they were confined to, abused, oppressed, with their children and their land robbed from them, the Lakota way survived.
And with Standing Rock, we were once again being reminded of atrocities large and small, such as the Wounded Knee and Whitestone massacres, as well as numerous other instances throughout the United States’ violent history where tribes, despite their open display of the white flag of peace, were slaughtered mercilessly, and at times hatefully; children and women shot, some clubbed to death, their scalps taken by the US soldiers as war trophies. These atrocities of the past were all undertaken for profit: to open more land for settlers so that the land speculators could reap some handsome returns, to clear the gold off the Black Hills; and in present day: to feed the insatiable appetite of corporate America for oil and gas.
Bikem Ekberzade is the author of Standing Rock: Greed, Oil and the Lakota’s Struggle for Justice. She is primarily a photojournalist and documentary photographer who specialises in forced migration in conflict and post-conflict zones. She has photographed and written two books on refugees, Illegal (2006) and West-end of the Border (2010), which were part of her documentary photography project The Refugee Project. She has written or contributed to several books and articles, and her photographs have been published by several international newspapers and magazines.