You never look good trying to make someone else look bad. When it comes to Standing Rock and the no-DAPL movement, we would all do well to heed that advice right now. Recently, many people have been exerting a lot of effort in trying to make Dave Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, look bad. Ever since he asked the water protectors to break camp several months ago, citing concerns for their safety, vicious rumors about him began to swirl.
If this issue were about a few individuals spreading gossip on Facebook, that would be one thing. But the unfounded rumors and ridiculous speculation have spun out of control, beyond the realm of individuals on social media. Several questionable news sources are on a mission to pit Native people against one another: a classic case of divide and conquer.
We must be cautious observers of this destructive media tactic. Staying unified, and upholding respect for worthy leaders, are techniques for resistance and nation building. We should be careful to avoid the lowest common denominator of human communication: gossip. There are enough non-Native people out there constantly discriminating against us and trying to tear us down.
Outside Media Has Misplaced Agenda For Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
To address this fraudulent propaganda, I want to address a recent piece published by The Daily Haze—an online platform that, for one reason or another, has pushed several anti-SRST pieces under the guise of a liberal, progressive agenda. One piece in particular disparages the Chairman and questions his morals and integrity; and it is getting far too much undeserved attention right now.
We should think critically about the potential motivations behind producing a segment like this.
The Daily Haze video begins with an introduction by Lydia and Sam, two non-Native journalists who say that they have been staying at the Standing Rock prayer camp for two weeks. They call their show “The Rock Report.” In the text introduction accompanying the video, they write that they “became the latest media outlet to walk away with more questions than answers — mostly concerning Archambault and his loyalty to the movement he once championed.”
I, too, came away from this piece with more questions than answers. However, I’m not wondering about the Chairman’s motives, I’m wondering about these two reporters. How much reporting have they done in Native communities over the course of their careers? Have they spent some time in Standing Rock that they forgot to mention? Have they gotten to know residents of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, not just people at camp? Have they studied tribal governance, federal Indian law, or even ethics in journalism? Is it possible that they truly have a firm grasp on an issue as incredibly complex as this one and are well equipped to report on it?
Unfortunately, my questions remain unanswered. They did not provide their last names, links to any of their other work, or any contact information.
The rest of the video interview raises many red flags. Such as:
- It is readily apparent that the clips have been heavily edited, suggesting content manipulation as opposed to an honest attempt at brevity.
- The premise of the piece is an attempt to urge the viewer to question whether the Chairman is an appropriate spokesman for the no-DAPL movement.
- The reporters repeatedly mispronounce “Archambault.”
- Aside from themselves, the reporters offer only two perspectives: the Chairman, and an AIM elder/water protector whose opinion is guided to directly contradict everything the Chairman says.
- The headline to the piece, “Dave Archambault II: “This Pipeline Is Not Going to Be Detrimental to Our Nation,” is a quote from the Chairman taken completely out of context.
- The reporters call into question the Chairman’s assertion that the fight to stop the pipeline has moved to Washington, but they fail to offer any other feasible means toward preventing the pipeline.
- They challenge the Chairman’s integrity by breaking down his interpretation of the catch phrase, “water is life” and highlighting that he does not necessarily agree with that statement. They claim that “water is life” is “the foundational reason for the pipeline opposition movement.”
Don’t Fall Prey To Divide and Conquer
While this heavily edited video is obviously fraught with gaps and contradictions to anybody well informed on the situation, it is nonetheless dangerously effective at convincing the casual viewer to believe that the Chairman is a sell-out. Comments below the post—largely disparaging to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe—prove that it is far too easy to convince bystanders to believe these lies, which is why we must remain ever-vigilant at challenging perspectives of this nature.
By their own admission, we know that these reporters have hardly spent any time reporting on the issue. I don’t bring up the mispronunciation of “Archambault” to make them look dumb—it’s not the easiest or most obvious name in the world to pronounce. But if they are branding themselves as authorities on Standing Rock, they of all people should have figured it out. It calls to question how much we might trust their knowledge of anything else to do
with the issue.
The whole premise—to consider Archambault the ultimate voice of authority on the no-DAPL movement who must now be questioned and perhaps removed from his role—is a moot point. The Chairman himself has never claimed to be a spokesman for the water protectors or for anybody other than his constituents: the citizens of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nation. He even says it toward the end of this video: “I don’t speak for the water protectors.” Why are they trying to convince us of something that isn’t being argued?
While I don’t agree with much of what the AIM elder stated in this interview, I refuse to critique his words. He is not at fault—these reporters are. They are using him as a pawn to forward their own divide-and-conquer agenda. Let’s not take that bait.
Their headline is a misleading suggestion that the Chairman no longer cares at all about stopping the pipeline. Even the limited context they provide proves that the Chairman does in fact still care about stopping the pipeline. However, he refuses to claim that the pipeline is the end-all-be-all for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Call me crazy, but I interpreted this statement as an expression of confidence in the resiliency of the people of Standing Rock. I agree with that sentiment, and I do not see the utility in a pessimistic perspective that might imply otherwise. A basic understanding of Standing Rock history will show that Standing Rock and the great Sioux Nation at large have been through an ungodly number of struggles—some considerably more life threatening than the situation at hand. They have always survived and always will. I do not think the Chairman is wrong for saying so. They irresponsibly chose the single clip of his words that mischaracterized his actual point.
As far as their misgivings on the Chairman’s insistence that the fight has moved to Washington and that the water protectors have served their purpose, I would consider this: if the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe government had not been diligently fighting this battle in court, through political avenues, and through a massive PR campaign that was initiated by local youth (a process that began well before any of the water protector camps existed), that pipeline would most definitely be in the ground today. Some shouted out, complained, and even suggested Archambault’s complacency when Trump signed the memorandum to move the pipeline
forward. How quickly do we forget that it is the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe—a sovereign nation with much to do and plenty of things on their plate—that stood up and decided to put their time, resources, and efforts into opposing the pipeline in federal court in the first place.
The fight in court is less sexy, less attention grabbing, and less dramatic than the fight on the frontlines, but it has nonetheless been critical in keeping Dakota Access at bay. No one is denying that the water protectors have done some incredible things as well and have served an important purpose—particularly at the beginning, when they were of the same heart and mind as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. But as the Chairman said, at this juncture, their purpose has been served.
Perhaps the most revealing and interesting part of the interview was the segment in which Archambault explained that water is not equal to life, but rather that “Water is a source of life. It is not life.” His thoughts on the matter have obviously progressed. He is focusing on the bigger picture, not just the pipeline. While the interviewers attempted to skew this as a betrayal of the movement, I don’t see it that way. They claim that the phrase “water is life” was the “foundational” purpose of the movement, but again, they are wrong. The fight to stop the pipeline began before the tagline existed. The purpose of the pipeline fight is to protect the actual people—particularly the children—of Standing Rock, and the future wellbeing of the Tribe’s land and resources. It has also taken on a larger and symbolic meaning for indigenous human rights, environmentalism, and other important things, but the “foundational” purpose remains with the wellbeing of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Don’t Believe the Propaganda: Chairman Archambault Is a Good Leader
Even though the divide-and-conquer forces have been furiously busy, their work is not winning. A lot of people are noticing and speaking out against it. Faith Taken Alive, a lifelong resident of Standing Rock, weighed in on a recent Facebook post:
“I sat back for a long time and watched and listened to people ridicule our Chairman, I for one commend him as he took this on as a young man and carried himself honorably throughout this ordeal. We will win, when we stay united!!! We can’t lower ourselves to the level the whiteman wants to see, nitpicking, arguing. We fall right into their hands “divide and conquer” is their motto. Please stop this undue ridicule of our Chairman here on Standing Rock he did his level best as a young man when this big issue was dropped upon him. He could have said “no I don’t want our Tribe to be a part of this”, instead took this issue and made it through some tough times.”
As you can see, not all will fall to the propaganda.
If nothing else, perhaps the complete lack of hard evidence should convince you that criticisms against Archambault are unfounded. Please interpret this critique of The Daily Haze reporters not as an attack on those two individuals, but as a constructive breakdown of what divide-and-conquer looks like in practice: how to spot it, prevent it, and disregard it. We should consider any attempt to exacerbate controversy and admonish legitimate efforts in indigenous governance an affront to all Native people. Internal conflicts are difficult to deal with.
In the end, we will be able to look back and remember that this pipeline fight, at one time, brought a lot of indigenous people together. Nobody can ever take that away. It already happened.
Chelsey Luger is Anishinaabe and Lakota from North Dakota. She hopes to be a strong link in a long chain of ancestors and descendants by spreading ideas for health and wellness. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Ideas for articles? Email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.