Canadian folk rock artist Neil Young has released a new protest song titled “Indian Giver” in support of the Native American resistance movement that has been struggling for months to protect local water supplies from encroaching destruction of the Dakota Access pipeline project in North Dakota.
“There’s a battle raging on sacred land,” sings Young at the beginining of the new folk rock tune. “Our brothers and sisters have to take a stand.”
Young describes the resistance — which has been dubbed the largest mobilization of Native American groups in more than a century — as a power struggle between wealthy corporations, which he refers to as “big money,” and the self-described “water protectors” at Standing Rock.
“Saw Happy locked to the big machine; they had to cut him loose and you know what that means,” sings Young in reference to to Dale “Happy” American Horse Jr., one of two youths who were arrested on Aug. 31 for blocking construction on the pipeline when they chained themselves to equipment for six hours.
“That’s when Happy went to jail,” the song continues. “Behind big money justice always fails.”
In an apparent reference to the scant coverage mainstream media has dedicated to the massive months-long demonstration, the main line Young repeats throughout the song goes: “I wish somebody would share the news.”
The video for the song combines images from ground zero of the resistance movement, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. This including footage of police cracking down on protesters, who call themselves “protectors,” and clips of Young driving in his car, apparently watching the demonstrations.
The title of Young’s song, “Indian Giver” comes from the derogatory saying used to describe someone who gives something away only to later want it back. The singer accuses the U.S. government of violating treaties with Native Americans to do just that.
“Now it’s been about 500 years; we keep taking what we gave away,” he sings. “Just like what we call Indian givers; it makes you sick and gives you shivers.”
Young uploaded the new track on Youtube on Friday. The song has since been removed from Young’s page, but Stereogum reported the full lyrics and another Youtube account has re-uploaded the video.
Young’s newest song reflects his reputation as a political activist, particularly around issues of dirty energy and Indigenous rights. In 2014, the artist launched a campaign under a Canadian concert series titled “Honor the Treaties” aimed at raising awareness about the government’s treaties with First Nations people and the consequences of proposed expansion of the tar sands in the province of Alberta. Young was an outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed 1,200-mile pipeline that would have transported unrefined crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to Nebraska, then on to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
In a career that spans nearly 50 years, Young has confronted politicians, Southern racism and corporations destroying both the planet and the music industry.
The resistance movement to stop construction of the pipeline has brought together more than 100 Indigenous groups and sparked a wave of international solidarity. Despite government orders to halt construction on a small portion of the pipeline pending a more thorough review, the companies behind the project have plowed on, desecrating sacred Native American sites and fueling the movement.
The US$3.8 billion pipeline would carry shale from the Bakken oil region in North Dakota to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The last verse of Young’s song sums up one of the core themes underlying the resistance at Standing Rock and sprawling across North and South Dakota: protecting the water for future generations.
“Our brave sons and daughters; we're all here together fighting poison waters,” Young sings. “Standing against the evil way; that’s what we have at the end of day.”