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hancockg16-img_3476-1024x682-1024x682The following article was originally published on

Standing Up To Those Who Always Take The Largest Portion

For a long while I’d been vaguely aware that there’s something wrong with the collective noun “Sioux” for the confederation of Native North American peoples speaking the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota languages. Then, on 2 December 2016, I meet Cody Two Bears, District Representative for the Cannonball Community on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council, and finally get the picture clear. “Sioux is just a word that people know us by,” Cody tells me, ‘so I’m not against it. Even if somebody calls me a word that I don’t particularly accept or interpret very well, I just tell them, ‘If that’s how you know us that’s fine’.”

Cody Two Bears (right) with Graham Hancock. Photo: Santha Faiia

Cody Two Bears (right) with Graham Hancock. Photo: Santha Faiia

Nonetheless the noun “Sioux” does have a history and does carry baggage. It’s thought to be derived from a pejorative term meaning ‘Little Serpents’ in the language of another Native American people, the Ojibwe, and to have been bastardized into French, with the ‘x’ plural marker, as Nadouessioux. It first appeared in that form in 1640 in the writings of the French-Canadian explorer Jean Nicolet. Later, around 1760, it was abbreviated to Sioux and adopted into the English language. “So,” concedes Cody, “the Sioux name in the history books was given to us by the Wasi’chu, the white people.”

We’ve entered another etymological rabbit hole that runs deep, since it turns out that the Lakota word Wasi’chu does not translate literally as “white people”. What it actually means is “he who takes the fat”, or “he who takes the larger portion” – in other words, a greedy person. “We’ve always called white people that,” Cody explains, “because we see the greed in them a lot of times – the one who takes the larger portion. We see that spirit about them.”

This spirit of greed, and of taking the larger portion – by force or deception or both – is an unmissable presence looming over the sad history of Native American lands usurped by successive governments of the United States of America. The ancient and traditional keepers of the land have again and again found themselves in conflict with industries and agribusinesses hungry for profits and backed by the power and authority of the US government. The most recent battle in this struggle of centuries was joined in 2016 in North Dakota at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and at the protest camp named Oceti Sakowin situated just beyond the reservation’s present northern boundary. There, from July 2016 and onwards into the winter, a rainbow coalition of Sioux, other Native American tribes, and non-Native American peoples gathered to stop the laying of an oil pipeline under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River half a mile north of Standing Rock in a location that not only transgressed traditionally sacred lands, but also threatened the Reservation’s water supply in the event of a spill.

Such spills happen surprisingly often with oil pipelines, and when they do they can cause immense damage. Indeed on 5 December 2016, more than 175,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the Bell Fourche Pipeline into Ash Coulee Creek in western North Dakota.i That was just 150 miles north of Oceti Sakowin, proving the point of the protestors that no pipelines are safe or can be guaranteed foolproof against spills.


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