By Gabe Fernandez
More than 800 people took part in a sit-in and march Nov. 15 in solidarity with water and land protectors at Standing Rock to demand the Federal government and the Army Corps reject the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux, along with several other tribes and protesters, have been camped out near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, since April to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline from going under the Missouri River, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The Obama Administration said Monday it will continue to withhold a final permit for completion of the pipeline.
Tuesday’s protest was part of the Nov. 15 #NoDAPL Day of Action occurring in over 300 cities around the world, including the U.S., Brazil, Japan, Australia and many countries around Europe.
Protestors began with a peaceful sit-in at the Army Corps Headquarters in the U.S. Government Accountability Office. About 100 people sat in front of the doors of the building with signs reading “Mni Wiconi,” meaning “water is life,” “We Stand with Standing Rock” and “Water is Sacred.”
The Solidary Action officially started an hour-and-a-half into the sit-in. Speakers came up to talk about their experiences protesting the pipeline, going to Standing Rock or generally fighting social injustices in the United States. Eryn Wise from the International Indigenous Youth Council and the Jicarilla Apache Nation spoke on the power of these nationwide protests.
“We have flipped conventional wisdom on its head,” Wise said to the gathered crowd. “We, the people, have said we do not want a single piece of pipe in our land. Conventional wisdom is for President Obama to say nothing and wait for President-elect Trump to make a decision. We, the people, will not allow that.”
Actress Shailene Woodley was among the speakers at the sit-in. She spoke on the importance of making sure the message of these demonstrations escapes the echo chamber of social media.
“Us preaching to the crowd that already knows about it is wonderful because it gives us momentum and it gives us energy and passion and fire to continue,” Woodley said. “But we have to encourage those who don’t know [about the pipeline]. We have to educate those who don’t know because we all know mainstream media isn’t going to do it.”
Woodley currently faces trial in February on charges of criminal trespass and engaging in a riot as one of 27 activists arrested Oct. 10 in North Dakota. As of Monday, nearly 470 people have been arrested throughout the protests at Standing Rock.
During the speeches, Maj. Gen.l Ed Jackson, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, came out to answer the questions of some of the leaders of the sit-in. One organizer, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a co-founder of the Sacred Stone Camp and Standing Rock Sioux tribal historian, tearfully asked how she would know that DAPL representatives won’t try to offer money to the corps to buy and dig up the land her son is buried in, like they did with her father.
Jackson directly responded to the part about DAPL representatives paying them off with, “That won’t happen.” He added Army officials are currently reexamining the area the pipeline would be built and would make a decision “based on law.”
Supporters at the sit-in and throughout D.C. marched alongside Native Americans and organizers from numerous activist groups to the White House, chanting, “Can’t drink oil! Keep it in the soil!” and “Honor the treaties!”
Marchers interviewed each had a different personal reason for attending the march toward the White House. Brittany Jock, a Ph. D Student at Johns Hopkins University and member of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, said she really cared about prevention as a student of JHU’s school of public health.
“I think preventing the pipeline is a good way to respect the people of Standing Rock and also prevent ill health effects from the pipeline,” Jock said. “We need to spread the word. We need wider support. It’s not just a native issue. We need to bring in other minority people who are experiencing injustices just like us. Because this affects us all.”
Other students were out marching, as well. Jacob Mast, a sophomore letters and sciences major from this university, said he was protesting for environmental and cultural justice.
“We’ve seen the effects of oil spills before, and the chances of something like that happening in the Missouri river is ridiculous,” Mast said. “In addition to all of that, it’s going through native people’s lands, which is adding insult to injury. That alone is worthy of protest.”
American University student Zainab Mirza, who has been involved in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline for about six months, was out because she felt as though the government was ignoring the issue because of the lame duck period. She added she didn’t see anything getting better in the near future because of the president-elect’s comments on global warming.
When the march finally arrived to the White House, organizers marvelled at the size of the crowd that had amassed since the march began. Police overseeing the march estimated the protest had grown to anywhere from 600 to 800 people. Mark Azure, president of the Fort Belknap Indian Council in Montana, took the time to discuss the politics conundrums of the indigenous community.
“We’ve got to go to anybody. If it’s Bernie, then come on Bernie, let’s do it,” Azure said. “But we don’t have the opportunity as Indian people to say we’re Republican or Democrat. We’ve got to go to the ones who are going to listen.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) arrived to speak on changing how America should treat Native Americans and climate change.
“The issues are very clear: for hundreds of years the Native American people in our country, the first Americans, have been lied to, have been cheated and their sovereign rights denied to them,” Sanders said. “We need to stand together to tell the fossil fuel industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of our planet.”
See photos from the event here.
Featured Photo Credit: During the march, Eryn Wise,one of the organizers, would stop the marchers and would pray, or show solidarity with those in Standing Rock. (Julia Lerner/Bloc Photographer)
Gabe Fernandez is a senior journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.