Protesters have gathered in North Dakota at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline that has allegedly disturbed the reservation.
In September, two Central Oregon Community College students took action to join the public response to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) movement at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota.
The main issue for many protesters, though—outside of the desecration of private Sioux tribe land—is the contamination of drinking water from the Missouri river that goes to millions of people.
This conflict between industry and environmental activists has come under the national spotlight as thousands of people from all demographics, as well as public figures and celebrities—have come together.
They have gathered to stand against an energy company that seeks to build an oil pipeline which would be near the Standing Rock Sioux tribe reservation. On October 27th, these two students shared about their experience in a meeting at Central Oregon Community College.
The meeting opened with a traditional blessing lead by Jose Alvarez, COCC student and native of the Warm Springs tribe. First Nation Student Union Club Advisor Gina Ricketts gave a breakdown of the DAPL issue and its current standing. She recounted that an ancestral burial ground on the Standing Rock reservation was disturbed by bulldozers after the Federal Government issued the energy company in question a cease and desist order.
“This is not a matter of if the pipeline bursts. It’s a matter of when,” said Ricketts.
She presented a list of oil pipeline spills and bursts since January 2016. It is nearly two pages long.
Yvette Leecy, COCC student and Warm Springs native, and Jose Alvarez of the Warm Springs tribe start by sharing why they went to North Dakota in the first place.
Yvette started by saying, “…in this world, being a Native American, everything seems twice as hard. But that’s not true. Being a female Native American makes everything doubly hard.”
Leecy goes on to say that on her fifty-fourth birthday, she felt compelled to go to Standing Rock to be a part of history and be able to make a change for the world her children and grandchildren live in.
“Why did I go? Because I care…because I would never be able to tell [my grandchildren] that I can’t offer them a glass of water. I went so I could give back to all people,” said Leecy.
So on September 4, Leecy and her daughter set off to North Dakota on a gas budget raised by T-shirts made by Leecy. STAND WITH STANDING ROCK is printed on them, heading a colorful graphic.
For Alvarez, the call to go be a part of the gathering at Standing Rock was a literal one. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe called on Canoe Families all over the country to come to North Dakota.
Alvarez is a leader of the Warm Springs Canoe Family, which is a movement started as a cultural rejuvenation effort. Canoe families are groups of Natives who work together to bring back languages and cultural aspects to unite and positively affect the members of the tribe.
“When I saw the No DAPL thing going on, I thought, ‘that’s weird. I thought that’d get shut down really fast,’” said Alvarez. It didn’t—in fact, it has steadily grown in media attention and supporters within the last several weeks to what is now a nationally acknowledged issue in public media.
Alvarez spoke mostly of the sense of community he felt at the camps where protesters gathered, and how powerful it was to see such connection between races and demographics. He said it left him with a hopeful example of the unity possible when people come together for a common reason; “…to show these corporations that they may have all the money, but the people still have the power.”
Leecy described the environment at the camps on the reservation as a “constant educational process.” Leecy and Alvarez said that there was a fire going all the time, there were language and dance classes, prayers and blessings, and the sharing of new and old songs.
“We should be concerned, we should be voicing our concern together,” said Leecy.
“If not now, then who’s going to [take a stand,] your kids? When it’s ten times worse?” said Alvarez in closing.
“One thing is clear: this isn’t going away,” said Ricketts. Leecy and Alvarez said that the thousands of people camping at Standing Rock are now gearing up to keep their stance during the winter.
Alvarez nodded his head. “They’re in it for the long haul,” he said. “It’s not over until they’re successful.”
Lily Greenstone | The Broadside