By Gabe Fernandez

Over 400 people gathered in downtown Annapolis to stand and march in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota.

The Sioux, along with over 200 Native American Tribes and hundreds of non-natives, have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline that would go under the Missouri River, their only source of drinking water, since April.

Cristi Demnowicz, an anti-corruption activist and the leading organizer of the protest, said she was inspired by a video on Facebook put out by water protectors at Standing Rock that called upon people across the country to fight with them and support their cause. She added that her outreach to the indigenous community really helped the event come together with respect to the cause.

“When you’re not Native, like myself, and plan to do something like this, you have to be very careful,” Demnowicz said. “There’s a lot of sensitive areas, and I was very lucky to be able to reach out to folks at Baltimore American Indian Center and Jennifer Hunt from Native American Lifelines in Baltimore to get me in touch with the right people.”

Jennifer Hunt, another organizer and one of several Indigenous Americans who spoke before the march began, said she was glad that even though Demnowicz was non-native, she was open-minded and willing to be guided on what to do. She also spoke on what the biggest issues of the Dakota Access Pipeline were to her.

“Water is definitely life,” said Hunt, whose father is from the Choctaw Tribe of Oklahoma. “I know it’s an environmental issue but really it’s a matter of land sovereignty. That that is [the Sioux Tribe’s] land, that is treaty land and they are breaking the law. Point blank, period. Laws have been broken and it’s a shame the media has been so absent in reporting it.”

The protest began with speakers from various tribes and grassroots and national organizations detailing their respective concerns with the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction. One indigenous speaker, Gray Michael Parsons, had been to Standing Rock twice to protest and described what he saw.

“I could list a litany of atrocities that has occurred there and those atrocities have been brought on largely by law enforcement,” Parsons said. “They were committed against children, adults, black, white, red, asian, it didn’t matter. Whoever was there was looked upon as someone who was there to cause trouble.”

Protesters in North Dakota have been stating for months that police have been using excessive force and violence, including being shot at with bean bag rounds, hit with pepper spray and violently taken into custody by the police as tensions over the land continue to rise. In some cases, protesters have been attacked by dogs.

Following the speakers, supporters from these groups and across the state marched up to the state capitol, chanting “Mni Wiconi, water is life” and “You can’t drink oil! Keep it in the soil!” as many bystanders filmed and cheered in support.

Jordan Marie Daniel marched along the front with her indigenous peers. She said the chant “water is life” is an effective way to appeal to those who might be unconcerned about this issue.

“Water is life, that’s what connects us all,” Daniel said. “We all are connected by that. When people look for life elsewhere outside of our planet and universe, what’s the first thing they look for as a source? Water. That brings life.”

Another protester, Theresa Reuter, was walking around with a petition to ban fracking in Maryland and said what motivated her to come out and support was the fact that people were being exploited for something she felt strongly against.

“It’s abhorrent what they’re doing to the people protecting their land out there,” Reuter said. “If I could, I’d be out there with them to stop it. Fracking is just anti-life.”

Many of those who marched came out with their children to support the cause. One marcher, Tamara Michaelson, was marching with her daughter and said she hoped this protest would bring more awareness to the Dakota Access Pipeline and inspire more people to fight against it, even if they might be too late to stop its construction.

The march ended in the same part of downtown Annapolis where it started. The chants continued, only with more native translations of “water is life” being used in the call-and-response.

As the chants died down, Kyle Harmon, a council member of the Nanticoke tribe, came up and spoke words on behalf of his tribe.

“The condolences I spoke to the crowd was meant to let people know that there have been atrocities and injustices in the past, but the only way to move forward is to clear the air with that,” Harmon said. “With the words we speak, there’s a ceremony to go with it with the exchange of wampum and it helps heal the community in a time of despair.”

The event ended in a silent prayer that was meant to be done at an individual pace. As organizers began to finish up, there was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

Both Hudson and Demnowicz described the march as beautiful and inspiring because of the unexpected turnout. Others, like Harmon, enjoyed the cultural makeup of those marching.

“It’s nice to see that people outside the native community are coming in and standing in solidarity with us to help fight a cause that’s beneficial for all humans and not just natives,” Harmon said. “It’s great to bring awareness to these issues that we’ve been fighting for.”

See photos from the event here.

Featured Photo Credit: Gray Michael Parsons chant to the crowd at the end of the march, the crowd responding with “water is life.” (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)

Gabe Fernandez is a senior journalism major and can be reached at gfernandez@umd.edu.

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