One of the first tangible tragedies of the Trump regime was the executive order signed just a few days into his term, overturning a decision by President Obama to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project until a full environmental impact study could be completed. Trump’s executive order allowed DAPL to move forward, along with the previously-stalled Keystone XL pipeline project.
“Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock” is a documentary in three parts about the DAPL protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
Part I, directed by Josh Fox, is written and narrated by Floris Whitebull. Accompanying video and images from Standing Rock, DAPL construction, Whitebull and her children, and the protests, Whitebull talks about a dream she had.
“The battle for the future is laid out clearly before me. On one side, greed, fear, money, violence, hate, and oil. On the other, generosity, faith, freedom, peace, and water.”
She notes DAPL has to run under the Missouri River, a water source for over 17 million Americans, and the only source of water for Standing Rock Nation. Burst pipelines in other parts of the country have permanently destroyed multiple watersheds, like the Kalamazoo River.
Part II of the documentary is directed by James Spione and is made up of footage, without commentary, from Standing Rock, including multiple incidents of law enforcement assaulting protestors with pepper spray, rubber bullets, and by spraying water.
Turtle Island is a burial ground at Standing Rock and as such is a special, sacred place for members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Yet law enforcement occupied this land, ignoring pleas from tribal members to leave it.
On Thanksgiving Day, which some Native Americans refer to as Survivor’s Day due to the tragic consequences for Native Americans of the first Thanksgiving and the European colonization of America, protestors decided to make a bridge to be able to set foot on Turtle Island and honor their elders who had passed away.
Police on megaphones at the top of the hill on Turtle Island said that they had no choice but to treat people coming on to Turtle Island as an act of aggression and warned that they would have to defend themselves, even though no one was attempting to go up the hill and confront police.
Overnight, police put up razor wire around the island, preventing protestors or tribal members to get on the island again.
Part III of “Awake” is directed by Myron Dewey, a Native American filmmaker and activist. He came to Standing Rock in order to see for himself what was happening and to fill a gap that he perceived in media coverage of the protests: that none of the coverage was produced by Native Americans or from a Native perspective.
His footage shows many of his interactions with law enforcement in and around Standing Rock. He notes that Morton County didn’t charge private DAPL police for pepper-spraying and setting dogs on people, but did harangue non-violent protestors with felony charges for trespassing.
He also has a conversation with black author, intellectual, and activist Cornell West, who came out to Standing Rock to show his solidarity with the water protectors.
“Human rights have already been violated on a number of different levels. They’re using domestic resources on behalf of an international corporate entity to contain and repress sovereign nations as well as citizens of the United States who are in solidarity with sovereign nations,” West said.
In the conclusion of the film (directed/written by Fox and Whitebull, who created Part I), the sad events created by Trump’s Executive Order are recounted, including the deployment of federal and state troops onto tribal land in late February to forcefully remove what remained of the people and protest camp. Tepees were slashed with knives, and people were tackled and arrested.
Water protectors remain proud of the movement they started, which has spread across the globe as people protest other pipelines and push for divestment from banks that fund DAPL and other pipeline projects.
As Morton says in the film, climate change is not just about the Earth, but about our relationships to each other, how we treat each other, and about justice.
Watch “Awake” and be inspired to treat the planet and each other better, and to continue fighting for social and environmental justice.
“Awake” is currently steaming on Netflix.