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ur History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus Dakota Access Pipeline, A Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance, is a critical historical look at the #NoDAPL movement. Estes’ book lays the foundation for future Indigenous geographers in analyzing Indigenous identity, the spaces they are fighting for, and the actions they take. The Water Protectors, everyday people organizing against the Dakota Access Pipeline, illustrated the variety of identities that were created by the movement. He writes that as colonialism changes so do the dynamics of resistance (21) and this is important for researchers who are looking to understand the formation of Indigenous identities and values. The dynamics of colonialism will produce dynamic actors that may work to dismantle it or perpetuate it in some manner. In this book Estes explores the type of resistance that is radical, both anti-colonial and anti-capital, and how space, or place, has shaped that consciousness (22). For Standing Rock, he argues that everyday people, native or non-native, were empowered to organize and resist and intrusion their lifeways. Access to free food, education, health care, legal aid, allowed people to confront the forces of capitalism and colonialism (252). Along with the formation of identities, Estes writes about the many variations of violence that occur in a settler state; genocide, boarding schools, housing issues, relocation, and water development. From the example of dam development to urban dynamics, Estes demonstrates how settler colonialism is revealed in ways that relate back to the #NoDAPL movement. The geography of Indigenous people goes beyond the US and into the international space connecting struggles all around the world.
The beginning of the book places the reader in the middle of a direct action to demonstrate the state violence directed towards any opposition towards the Dakota Access Pipeline. Rather than compartmentalizing these moments of violence and resistance, the author makes the point that these moments are informed by the past, situating twenty-first century Indigenous resistance within the larger project of colonialism and the counter project of liberation. The title of the prologue, “Prophet,” indicates that these acts of resistance were diagnoses of the present and visions of a potential future (14). Standing Rock is a site of ongoing Indigenous resistance where natives “take control of their destinies and lands” (22). The first chapter explores the origins of the #NoDAPL movement by examining the land laws that permitted resource extraction on Indigenous lands, the action of resource companies and the resistance of Indigenous people, and the eventual forceful closure of the camps. The chapter studies the relationship between resource extraction, violence towards Indigenous people, and what the eventual camp site meant to the water protectors who initiated the NoDAPL movement. The chapter explores the ways that everyday life within the campsite empowered and reproduced resistance in ordinary people.
Origins begins by looking at the meaning of land and water, from Indigenous people’s perspective and that of the US, revealing that both have differing relations which established the extractive and imperial relationship between the two. In examining the social relationship with land and water, Estes demonstrates the values of Indigenous people that clash with the capitalist values and conceptions. He notes the hegemonic nature of the capitalistic conceptions of nature and how it spread to label Indigenous lands and bodies, notably its effect on Indigenous women. The capitalist notion of land motivates the extractive nature of the US, thereby launching the violence towards Indigenous people.
Continuing from the origins, Estes provides an overview of the violent struggle that occurred afterwards. The violence manifested as the elimination of the buffalo, military campaigns against Indigenous people, taking of lndigenous lands and children, and the criminalization of Indigenous people and life ways. Estes comments on the point of the “carceral reservation” and its connection to the civilization projection and criminality (115). As a result of these experiences, the Ghost Dance empowered an anti-colonial movement that united Indigenous people. The author demonstrates the emancipatory nature of the Ghost Dance movement by moving away from the previous understanding of the dance that usually downplayed the political expression of Indigenous people rejecting the colonial order of things.
As the title of chapter four, “Flood”, suggests, Estes examines water development and its role in setting the stage for NoDAPL. The westward flood of settlers was spurred on by water development. Water policies of the 20th century play a crucial role in the continuation of the settler project through the dispossession of Indigenous land and water, and the relocation of Indigenous communities, that favors settler modes of production such as agriculture (146). Granted by the Pick-Sloan Project, Indigenous land was flooded which set the precedent for water to fall under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers. Estes challenges this premise by examining the history of water rights and development. The author reveals a long history in which the Army Corps of Engineers ignored tribal consultation and consent, severely limiting Indigenous water rights. In so doing, Estes shows how Indigenous land was desired so that it could be sacrificed as a flood zone. Settler colonialism, as a theory, posits that Indigenous lands are desired as a commodity to be used or extracted from rather than sacrificed or wasted. Similar to Traci Voyle’s use of the material discourse of “wastelanding”, Estes demonstrates that Indigenous lands are not just a space of extraction but can be designated as sites to be flooded and becoming unusable for Indigenous people (134). This distinction, which is important for Indigenous geographers, illuminates the way settler colonialism uses water to limit access to crucial resources for Indigenous people.
As Estes demonstrates in chapter X, these practices of settler colonialism extended from the plains to cities. Red power manifested in Indigenous people who were scattered into urban settings by relocating policies that were meant to disintegrate native communities. Estes traces the history and ideas of powerful pan-Indigenous organizations that would embody red power. This chapter offers insight for Indigenous geographers analyzing both the dynamics of rural and urban geography as they relate to Indigenous relocation and the consequences on Indigenous population. Further study of urban policies related to Indigenous people can detail the various tactics of settler colonialism and the identities and motivations that are produced within these settings. Evaluating the “off the reservation” phrase, Estes continues his examination of the criminality of Indigenous people and their usage within the mid 20th century directed towards natives who challenged the colonial system. From the reservations to the city, Estes argues that relocation only created conditions for natives to struggle and organized the third ideological revolution, “Red Power”.
In fact, as Estes demonstrates, “Red Power” is an international project that exceeded the boundaries of the settler USA. Estes sheds light on the international work of the Indian Treaty Council that was not widely known while signifying the need to think beyond the nation-state approach to Indigenous liberation. Estes traces the history of Indigenous internationalism from the beginning of alliances between Indigenous nation prior to the US (203) to the International Indian Treaty Council, the International arm of the American Indian Movement. By focusing on the work of Charles Eastman and Zitkala-Sa (Gertude Simmons), the author shows the limitation of seeking liberation solely through a nation-state approach. The work of two Dakota activists paved the way for AIM to strategize and organize an international approach. Estes argues that Indigenous liberation exceeds the nation state and that actions seek International solidarity with other oppressed nations is necessary, a chief example being the work of the International Treaty Council. The author argues that Indigenous struggles can expand beyond the geography of settler states and allows for Indigenous geographers to think in terms of global sites of struggles.
The final chapter highlights the geography of the #NoDAPL camp as a site of liberation and “amplified presence” of Indigenous relations. Estes remarks that the camps became a space delinked from the geography of an Empire and a space where Indigenous life ways and values could thrive in the present. The author mentions that such spaces formed and established a social system that would challenge capitalism, thus reproducing resistance in the future.
Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus Dakota Access Pipeline, A Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance is a necessary read for anyone yearning to understand settler colonialism. Estes mentions the function of racial capitalism within a settler-colonialism to describe how Indigenous lands were accumulated. What benefits readers is revealing the logic of racial capitalism in conversation to the devaluation of Indigenous lands and people. Settler colonialism shapes the landscapes based on value and profit. Indigenous lands, people, water sources were deemed less valuable than Bismarck, a town further north that was 90% white. The diverting of the pipeline to a path that would create a disproportional risk for a racial minority is a textbook definition of environmental racism and injustice. The book highlights the point that Indigenous concerns for land, lifeways, and sovereignty were deemed deposable in the project of settler colonialism. It will benefit future social scientists to examine the relationship between settler-colonialism and racial capitalism.
In terms of Indigenous resistance and environmentalism, Nick Estes underscores the imperial project that these motifs exist and function within. Rather than writing with an over-deterministic understanding of settler colonialism, Estes highlights and emphasizes Indigenous agency throughout the book. He makes it clear that the resistance at Standing Rock was more than a site of environmental struggle with Indigenous people at the forefront. It was a site of emancipatory struggle for all oppressed people and crucial resources that were threatened by the extractive project. In the case of Standing Rock, mass resistance was key to halting the pipeline. Contextualizing Standing Rock as a social movement, an embodiment of Indigenous resistance, that carved a place of freedom is necessary to how mass resistance shapes spaces for an emancipatory present and future. The Standing Rock movement created a space that was inclusive to those who were working towards a future without an empire. Such a space attracted the attention of other excluded groups ensuring a connection of resurgent geographies despite not being contiguous. From that perspective, he adds that Indigenous liberation is not confined to the United States but a movement that is aligned with other international movements for liberation thus making it clear that settler colonialism is an international problem, and that Indigenous liberation is thus an international project.
Majerle Lister is a master's student in the UNC-Chapel Hill Geography Department. He studies Indigenous/Diné geographies, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Land Authority/Tenure.