By: Mary James
It all started with protecting the land and water, but turned into so much more. Thousands of Americans continue to protest in North Dakota in efforts to get the federal government to stop the construction of an oil pipeline near Native American land. This is one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans in over a century with members of more than 100 tribes. This controversial pipeline has united hundreds of Native American tribes and people from all over the world. As a Native American, I support the Standing Rock Sioux and first peoples of this nation in protecting their life source when they say respect our water and the land.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is estimated to be 1,172 miles long. The Standing Rock Sioux, whose source of drinking water will be crossed multiple times by the pipeline, filed a lawsuit to stop construction. The proposed route of the pipeline approaches the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the tribe argues the pipeline would disturb sacred sites and are worried their water would be contaminated. The $3.8 billion project would carry 500,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois if completed. The pipeline was approved in late July and since there has been protesting to raise awareness.
The gathering is peaceful on the protestors end but I cannot say the same for the security the DAPL workers hired. September 3, the Dakota access pipeline brought in private security and aggressive dogs. The security allowed their dogs to attack the people. At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed and six people, including a child were bitten by the dogs. The Energy Transfer desecrated and destroyed sacred burial grounds.
September 28, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department sent in armored vehicles and arrested 21 people. The people at the Sacred Ground Camp were unarmed participating in a prayer ceremony planting willow and corn on the construction site. A video one of the protectors captured shows the people unarmed with their arms up while police with guns closed in yelling at them to get in their cars and go. The police are seen grabbing women and ordering them into their vehicles. The people are shouting, “we are unarmed, we have no weapons.” But at least one officer pointed his gun towards the civilians. Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier claims the civilians were charging at the police while on horseback but videos released show no evidence of anyone on horses charging. The sheriff said the civilians are displaying acts of aggression. The sheriff also claimed there were pipe bombs at the camp site. There were no bombs, he was referring to the traditional Chanunpa pipes used during ceremonies. The media has portrayed the Native Americans as violent protestors but the news is not covering how the movement has been nonviolent the entire time; it consists of prayer, peace, singing, and drumming.
I grew up on the Nez Perce Reservation learning this tribe’s language and traditions. I grew up partly in the longhouse where the community would gather every Sunday to honor the creator, mother earth, and the blessings they provide us. In the longhouse we drink water with our meals. Water in Nez Perce is kuus. In the longhouse before eating our meal we would all hold up our glasses and say “kuus” before taking our first sip. Water is also used in the traditional sweat house, where family and friends go to pray to cleanse our mind, body, and spirt. The water helps produce steam when dropped on rocks. These rocks have been in a fire pit and once they are bright red we place them in the sweat to begin. We wouldn’t be able to attend sweat if we did not have the water to produce the steam. Water is a huge part of our way of life. Our traditional foods need water to survive; huckleberries, kous kous, and mountain tea. Water brings the salmon, one of the most traditional foods to the tribe. Native Americans honor water; without water we wouldn’t be able to sustain our way of life. Our traditional foods are special to us. We don’t just hunt, fish, and gather for ourselves. We share this food with our community, we give it to our elders. We honor water because it is life and it sustains us.
The core of our beliefs is to honor and respect the earth. The earth does not belong to us, but to our future generations; specifically, seven generations into the future. A simple lesson I learned as a child growing up with Native traditions was that if you take something you have to replace it. Someone once took a rock from the stream and explained to me how the absence of that one rock changes the course of the stream regardless of how insignificant it may seem. I was told that if enough rocks are taken without replacing them this river will no longer run to give life to us. Not just life to us but the fish, the trees, the soil, and the air. It was then I learned everything we do is connected not just to us but to our children and our children’s children. We are taught we only borrow this earth from the next generation. That the energies of life are to be honored and respected and that everything has a form of energy. We as people of the earth must not disrupt these energies.
It’s time for the media to stop portraying Native people as the problem and look at how the system is working. It’s time to get the word out on what is really happening at the campground. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a short-term solution to a long term problem. If it leaks it will contaminate the main water source for the Sioux Tribe as well as millions of others. Water is life, oil is not.