As an indigenous person of North America, I consider the U.S. to be my home, and it will always be so. It doesn’t matter what boundaries the government has drawn. This is my home. My heart knows it. Generations before me have walked this land, and when I came into this world, I made sure my bare feet would walk the earth too.
When I was growing up, I never wore shoes – not because I was poor, but because I liked feeling the grass and dandelions (or weeds) beneath me. As a child, I didn’t have a lot of typical American options for entertainment on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana. We’re just in such a rural area. We had no movie theaters, bowling alleys, parks, water parks, or anything like that. No fast food restaurants either.
All I had was the land – and it gave me some of the greatest childhood experiences.
As a little girl, I loved to play tag and hide-n-go-seek with all my cousins, and even my dogs. I rode horses, went swimming at the Tongue River and at Crazy Heads. And I drank water from the natural springs on the reservation. To this day, I still make a special trip into the hills to get natural spring water.
When I think of my home, I don’t think of a square shaped house or a man-made structure. I think of the land that raised me.
When Euro-Americans think of American Indians, they often think of old Western movies, casinos, poverty, or drugs and alcohol.
But when I think of my people, I think of our connection to the land and our respect for all the natural elements of the universe.
So much has changed in this country since people started migrating here from foreign countries, but the love my indigenous brothers and sisters have for our Mother Earth has not changed.
So, when I found out that a pipeline was being built near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to transport crude oil to Illinois, my heart sank. There have been hundreds of oil and gas pipeline leaks in North America, and each one has resulted in sickness, or even death, for both animals and humans.
When I looked at the proposed route for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), I didn’t think of the millions or billions of dollars that it would bring in temporarily. I thought of all those indigenous babies, and rancher and farmer babies, and all living things in the path of the pipeline. I thought of how their lives will be negatively impacted by the crude oil. I imagined families having to put their boats and fishing rods away forever because the water would one day become contaminated. I imagined plants and crops being destroyed. I imagined the pipeline stealing our natural resources, and our happiness.
Although I don’t live near the proposed pipeline route, it still impacts me, too.
If the Dakota Access Pipeline is built, it will be placed underneath the Missouri River, less than a mile away from the Standing Rock Reservation. The Missouri River is the largest River in North America, and it flows into all other waterways in the country, including the Tongue River that I grew up swimming in. Looking at the bigger picture, the Missouri River also flows into the Mississippi River and leads into the Gulf of Mexico. People don’t realize that all waterways connect somewhere, someway, somehow.
Originally, the pipeline’s proposed route was supposed to be close to Bismarck, ND, but when city protesters spoke out against it, Dakota Access moved their route further down, closer to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and now they don’t want it either.
Protesters against the pipeline started camping near the construction site in April, and as the pipeline materials and machinery got closer to the reservation in early August, the camp grew from 15 people to a couple thousand, and the support is continuing to grow. First, the word spread throughout Indian Country and hundreds of tribes sent representatives. Now, other groups are finally starting to join as they realize it’s not necessarily an “Indian issue,” but an “environmental issue.”
Just by looking at the map of the waterways in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it’s obvious why water is such a big concern. Without clean water, the economy of every city along the Missouri River is at risk.
The protesters are starting to call themselves “protectors of the water.” Not protesters. It’s a belief that goes back to cultural ties to the land and the water. In these instances, many online trolls have been mocking the Indian “protectors” about going back to living “the old ways,” but many of the water protectors are actually advocating for renewable energy. Many have been trying to get the message out there that “there are alternatives to oil, but there are no alternatives to water.”
So far, the protest demonstrations have been completely peaceful, and have involved a lot of traditional American Indian songs, dances, and prayers and ceremonies. Many Standing Rock Sioux members posted on social media last week, asking that people bring their “canupa’s” and load their pipes. When this announcement was made, they were referring to the sacred peace pipe, where tobacco is smoked to pray to the Creator. It is believed that the sacred plant, tobacco, carries the prayers up to the Creator in the smoke.
However, a Bismarck, ND Sheriff made a formal announcement last week, claiming that the protesters are violent and have pipe bombs. Soon afterwards, there were talks of the National Guard being called in and North Dakota declared a state of emergency. There was a huge outcry from hundreds of tribes around the U.S., trying to explain to the media and the North Dakota state governor Dalrymple, that the “protesters” were referring to smoking tobacco to PRAY instead of trying to use deadly weapons.
So far, construction of the pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation has been temporarily stopped, and the ultimate decision about the development of the pipeline will be made in a federal court on September 9, 2016 in Washington DC. Originally, the injunction hearing was supposed to be August 24th, but the judge felt that he needed more time to think about it, and moved it to September 9th. There will also be another hearing on September 14th, as Dakota Access is suing the Standing Rock Sioux tribe regarding the protests that have taken place.
To all the readers out there, please consider looking further into this issue. So far, some of our prominent, non-native “protectors” against the pipeline include the Black Lives Matter Movement, Divergent star, Shailene Woodley, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Bernie Sanders just released a letter of support on August 25, 2016. Shailene Woodley has been especially active in the movement, and has been documenting and posting videos of her journey with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe on her Facebook page.
Overall, the fight is to protect the water. It is believed by many tribes that if we take care of the water and the land, then it will take care of us. That is how the circle of life works, and that is all that the protesters want. Many people have lost sight of that because they’re constantly surrounded by concrete, buildings, and technology.
To those people, I challenge you to spend a few days in the great outdoors, or spend a few nights under the stars. Embrace the beauty of the land, water, and all the natural elements because this planet is our home. Like, sure, the pipeline will bring in money, but money isn’t everlasting. It will come and go, but our Mother Earth will not.
For more information about the water protectors and their side of the story, please visit this site.
Also, please consider signing the petition against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or send them a donation, letter of support, or follow them on social media with this hashtag: #NoDAPL. Many are expressing in more detail why this issue is so important –not only for American Indians, but for all of humanity.