Notes From the Field, Part II: “Water is Life”

Standing Rock water protectors on what they are standing up for

Over the past month, members of more than 100 tribal nations from across the continent have gathered at the edge of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Over 1,000 people are now camped a few miles south of where the proposed pipeline will cross the Missouri River, the main source of water for the reservation.

AIM flag, marchersPhoto by Devin CurrensThe flags of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and Standing Rock Reservation fly high as protectors march along the highway.

The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline will bring fracked oil from the Bakken shale deposits across four states to Patoka, IL, where it will connect with existing pipeline infrastructure. The proposed route for the pipeline is roughly seven miles shorter than that of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline that Obama rejected last year.

On September 3, a private security company hired by the company behind the pipeline (Energy Transfers Partners) used pepper spray and attack dogs on those attempting to non-violently halt the destruction of documented burial grounds and sacred sites. Six people were bitten by dogs, including a young girl and a pregnant woman.

On September 9, a federal judge rejected the tribe’s request for an injunction that would halt construction. Minutes later however, the Department of Justice, Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior released a joint statement temporarily barring construction under the Missouri River and requesting that “pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity” in the immediate area, while the Army Corps reconsiders its previously issued permits.

The struggle against this pipeline is far from over.

Native people and allies continue to arrive at the camps where the Cannonball River meets the Missouri. They remain committed to non-violent direct action.

Youth Playing FootballPhoto by Devin CurrensYouth playing football on the edge of camp. The Missouri River is in the distance.

Ladonna Tamakawastewin Allard,
Cannonball, North Dakota

I am the owner of Sacred Stone camp. I own the land here, this is my family’s land.

In 2014, I was invited to a meeting where Dakota Access came to the tribe to tell them about a proposed pipeline. They had a big map, and I noticed I’m the closest land owner. Nobody told me they were going to build a pipeline outside my home.

At the end of the meeting I remember one of these ladies from Dakota Access — I walked up and said: ‘Remember me, I’m the closest land owner… I will not allow you to build a pipeline next to my son’s grave.’

People started showing up here. Coming to help… praying… and this place just exploded.

There has never been anything like this in Indian country. Ever.

It’s just overwhelming. I don’t have any words for it. I am not responsible for any of this. The young people stood up, and then everyone else stood up.

Water is Life artworkPhoto by Devin Currens“We have enough obstacles as it is. So why take away our water? It is life.”

Rachel Swift Hawk,
Wagner, South Dakota

I just can’t explain — to have all the tribes here… The peace that I have, even with what’s going on. This inner peace within me. There’s no anger. You just want to hug people, you just want to be thankful for their support and everything they have to offer.

I’m a veteran and I have a lot of emotions. I fought for this country and to see that they don’t want to listen, they don’t want to hear what we have to say, it hurts me because of my loyalty for this country.

We have enough obstacles as it is. So why take away our water? It is life. It is our medicine. It heals, and without that, we won’t exist.

Michael StandPhoto by Devin Currens“We represent the people…. Everybody.. any color, any race…”

Michael Stand Jr,
Minneapolis, Minnesota

I’m just looking out for my daughter… I’m just thinking about my kid. She’s 9 years old.

It started out with Native Americans at first. But it took Native Americans to bring the whole world together. Native Americans, we’ve always been here, we never left… and Native Americans stood up. Because this is home.

We represent the people…. Everybody.. any color, any race… it’s just love, man, we all just love each other, you know? That’s just pretty much what it’s about.

Marvett OldmanPhoto by Devin Currens“Once they start pushing one tribe around like this, they are going to do it to all the rest of us. That’s why everyone has to stand up united.”

Marvett Oldman, Wind River Reservation, Wyoming

I came up from Wind River. I seen it on Facebook, I seen them calling out. They called out their allies and whoever else wanted to come and stand up. I told my wife right off that I was going to come up here. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get up there’ I said, ‘but I’ll get up there.’ It’s going to start from here… Once they start pushing one tribe around like this, they are going to do it to all the rest of us. That’s why everyone has to stand up united.

The government is still speaking with those forked tongues. There’s no trusting them. Natives have had enough.

They better notice. Because this is more spiritually powerful than anything that has been… This is powerful. This is very powerful. And it’s peaceful.

Acorn's JacketPhoto by Devin Currens“We come from one thing. That one thing is right here. When we are gone and we pass away, we go back to the dirt.”

Acorn, Wounded Knee, South Dakota

I look at the kids running around out there, the younger generation — this is their life, this is their water. If they don’t have this water, they are going to diminish, they are going to be gone. The trees need the water to live, and they are the ones that keep us going, and the grass… water is life. In Lakota we say mni wiconi.

We come from one thing. That one thing is right here. When we are gone and we pass away, we go back to the dirt.

We don’t carry weapons. We’re standing here on our own two feet, with our own two hands, and our minds. We’re standing along with Tunkashila (the creator), as we pray.

(Acorn didn’t want his full name used.)

Girl with horse, duskPhoto by Devin CurrensA young girl tends to her horse as night falls over camp. “Everybody just had a little voice, speckled here and there. But now, with this, it is really having that domino effect.”

Kathy Whitman-Elk Woman,
Santa Fe, New Mexico

This is so good. It’s a statement. It’s a peaceful, loving statement. It’s love of the water and love of Mother Earth that sustains us.

We just have to keep praying. I hate that word hope. We just have to keep having faith.

Everybody just had a little voice, speckled here and there. But now, with this, it is really having that domino effect.

Jamie and JeremyPhoto by Devin Currens “Money is paper. It’s nothing really… And once you get it, a new You pops out.”

Jamie Dullknife, Pine Ridge, South Dakota
Jeremy Tripp, Yankton, South Dakota

Dullknife: These people are so hypnotized by the thought of being rich, that they don’t see what’s really good for them, for everybody. Money is paper. It’s nothing really… And once you get it, a new You pops out. You don’t think, once you get it. It’s not really worth it.

Do they have kids? Do their kids drink water? Do they know how precious it is?

If you were to ask the government how many oil spills have you had in North Dakota so far, they won’t tell you. Because it’s too many to count.

Tripp: I’m not Native… I had people back home tell me that I was just up here trying to be a Native. And I was like, “you drink water too!” It’s not a Native thing, they are just the people standing up.

Dullknife: It’s a world thing.

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