Dear Mitakuyapi (“Relatives” is a traditional greeting in the Lakota language),
Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye (“I shake your hand with a good heart”). I am writing this message from the camp near Standing Rock Sioux reservation north of Cannonball, North Dakota objecting to the nearby construction of an oil pipeline by Dakota Access. The pipeline could pollute local drinking water and will continue to destroy sites of great historic, religious and cultural significance as it crosses ancestral lands of the Great Sioux Nation.
Native youth continue to innovate and demand justice, first articulating their outrage through Generation Indigenous and coordinating a 2,000 mile run to hold a rally in Washington, DC on August 6. This protest came together during the same time frame Native Americans in Philanthropy planned our White House Generation Indigenous event at the White House on August 26, at which many youth and nonprofit leaders articulated their support for the protection of water (see recaps of this amazing philanthropy event in our newsletter and opportunities to be a part of our White House national call).
Now the camp has gathered an estimated 7,000 supporters over the weekend. Being in the camp is definitely an experience of overwhelming unity and generosity. Demonstrations of dance and cultural teaching occur from sunrise to sunset. The heartbeat of drum and song emerge in different languages all around camp into the night. Everyone is gathered in the sacredness of the cause. Not only are the people defending our ancestral sacred sites, but defending our sister, the river. This is where environmental justice meets sacred site protection meets racial justice.
As the tribe explains, Dakota Access violated tribal sovereignty when they began their $3.7 billion oil pipeline project crossing a rancher’s land north of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation under a section of the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux are a federally-recognized tribe, with all the rights due to their signed treaties. The main issue is the broad definition utilized for “tribal consultation” in these contexts when tribes are demanding “tribal consent” which would provide a clearer definition of the tribal role and uphold their right to tribal sovereignty. Tribal sovereignty gives tribes the right to govern themselves, define their own membership, manage tribal property, and further recognizes the existence of a government-to-government relationship between tribal nations and the federal government.
Alvar Pop Ac, chairman of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, weighed in on the issue of tribal consultation calling upon the U.S. to provide the tribe a “fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process to resolve this serious issue and to avoid escalation into violence and further human rights abuses.” According to the UNPFII, failure to consult with Sioux over the project violated the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in which the United States endorsed in 2010. Article 19 states: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”
Last week, Dakota Access escalated the situation when their pipeline work crews bulldozed tribal sacred ceremonial sites and security guards attacked protesters with dogs and pepper spray — six people were bitten by the guard dogs with most of the front line protectors have been women. Following this event, Gov. Jack Dalrymple then announced he would send National Guard troops to help state troopers at a traffic checkpoint about 30 miles up the road from the protest.
In this moment of conflict, many have shared outcries of racism as mainstream stories swirled of violent protesters and a violent camp. These stories contrast starkly to the reality of the camp I’ve witnessed. In fact, I was reunited at camp with my former colleagues from the Episcopal Church, The United Church of Christ and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Many of these denominations have issued statements of support for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (see links below).
Other major supporters have lent their voice to this fight against racism: “We are clear that there is no Black liberation without Indigenous sovereignty. Environmental racism is not limited to pipelines on Indigenous land, because we know that the chemicals used for fracking and the materials used to build pipelines are also used in water containment and sanitation plants in Black communities like Flint, Michigan… We are in an ongoing struggle for our lives and this struggle is shaped by the shared history between Indigenous peoples and Black people in America, connecting that stolen land and stolen labor from Black and brown people built this country.” – Black Lives Matter
Leaders at the camp have announced intentions to stay until January 1, 2017. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is requesting donations made directly to their tribe for legal, sanitary and emergency purposes. Native Americans in Philanthropy has received notifications from funders about rapid release funding opportunities for specific purposes. If Funders have similar opportunities or would like to connect with nonprofits on the ground, please let us know and we are happy to help.