JOHN STRAND: Taking Liberty — North Dakota Nasty

We have a huge public relations problem here in the Peace Garden State. While the world was watching the DAPL pipeline controversy, North Dakota failed abysmally in influencing the narrative telling people about us. What they see casts us in anything but a positive light. We need to acknowledge this.

The movie Fargo gave us an example of how far good PR and branding can go. The film — and subsequently the TV series — put Fargo on the map. Who’d have ever thought that DAPL, NoDAPL and Standing Rock would become common vernacular to others, not only here in the United States but around the world.

We failed. And it will cost us big time.

Social media is the tail wagging the dog these days. As much as we’d say that social media tells only a fraction of the story, it’s hard to argue with what’s gotten out there about us. They see us as oppressors and in a militaristic fashion aggressors against Native Americans. Again.

They see us as heartless and willing to pepper spray, tear gas, shoot rubber bullets and even soak people down with water hoses in freezing temperatures. They see North Dakota all cozied up to a Texas oil company. They see us digging our heels in and not even giving legitimate attempts to mediate, negotiate or talk with folks protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing beneath the Missouri River through sacred Indian ground.

They see us as a people who disregard the voice of Native American spirituality and culture and instead deploy a militarized response to help Energy Transfer Partners move closer and closer to the Missouri despite a federal demand that stops 20 miles away until these complex issues are addressed.

We can’t buy this kind of publicity. And frankly, we cannot buy good will around the planet when they’ve seen what they’ve seen.

That the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that no easement will be allowed for the pipeline to cross the Missouri until an Environmental Impact Study is completed and until all outstanding grievances have been addressed gives some hope to water protectors.

Meantime, the world sees state and DAPL leadership thumbing their noses at the federal edict.

When they see thousands of veterans of war join the 400-plus tribes represented at camp, so as to create a human shield between law enforcement and protesters, they see courage. When they see an absence of leadership in North Dakota’s governor’s office they see a vacuum and a lack of courage. To date, neither the governor nor the lieutenant governor have set foot on the Sacred Stone Camp. Sad to say the least.

Meanwhile, hope springs eternal. We have a new governor taking office Dec. 15. That vacuum we’ve come to know will be filled sooner than not. And we are optimistic Gov.-elect Doug Burgum will show true leadership, faith in his home state and respect for all of her sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, moms and dads, all peoples. Native relations in the Peace Garden State are in need of urgent attention.

As for water protectors protesting, please go home as per the request of Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault. You’ve accomplished more than anyone could have predicted. Your work now will be done through diplomatic and legal avenues. North Dakota winters can be brutal. Do not risk your lives by staying. Please do what’s right here and now.

No one can turn back the past, whether it be recent months or what’s taken place for generations. But we can create a better tomorrow. And we need to.

That alone will help redefine North Dakota in the eyes of the world. Our futures rest on our good will, our good works, our good work for the greater good of all.

History continues. The next chapters are ours to write. Let’s all think about how we’d like this story to go from this point in time. Otherwise, others will define us. And it won’t be pretty, especially with no change of heart, no change in Native relations here, no change in the us-versus-them paradigm that’s recently become the case.

We can do better than that. Legendary North Dakota we shall again be. Failure is not an option.

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