by Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe)
Currently, the once-in-a-generation experience has presented itself to many people from all walks of life, from many different peoples, at the No Dakota Access Pipeline stance on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
As an enrolled member of the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe in Wisconsin, I am aware that I am not Sioux, I am not Lakota, I am not Dakota, I am not Nakota. But I am one of the people. In my language, Ojibwemowin, when introducing oneself, it is custom to express, “I am one of the people.” Anishinaabe endow.
As one of the main performers at the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills, I am among many of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota people. I live amongst them, I interact with them, and have befriended many of them. They are some of the most beautiful people to meet and be amongst. At the world’s largest monument in progress, I experience firsthand people from all over the world that travel to learn more about the Great Sioux Nation, its leaders, its people, and their descendants. They are a very admired people.
And although, not Sioux, I am honored to represent an entirely different tribe that many people are not familiar with, the Ojibwe people. I am honored to be from my people. Being amongst the Lakota, Dakota (there aren’t many Nakota people in the States), I have learned much of not only my American Indian heritage, but of the human heritage: Who we are, where we come from, where we are going, and why we are here – to honor creation.
Several months ago, I had the privilege of visiting and traveling to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation with some very dear friends of mine who are also very well accomplished as entertainers and cultural ambassadors. Transitioning into writing for Native Peoples Magazine, my first article is going to be on American Indian magicians. I was hosted by one of them (there aren’t many) as they chauffeured an English author currently writing a travel book about being a European traveling through Indian Country.
During my visit, I met a great deal of people that have lived and worked their entire lives for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. It was meeting LaDonna Allard, however, that stuck out during my visit. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Clean Water Act Coordinator, LaDonna spoke to our English guest about oil, water, pipelines, pollutions, treaties and laws.
And although sounding political of – you know – who gets what, when, where, how and why, the concern communicated wasn’t about politics. It was about the preservation of this place we all call home, Earth. And through treaties does it mention Tribes having input on issues affecting their ceded land.
A company called Dakota Access out of Texas has been proposing the building of an oil pipeline that would transport crude oil from the Bakken formation in Saskatchewan and North Dakota to the Gulf of New Mexico in Louisiana. There have been several attempts to build the pipeline, including the currently proposed route, and all will travel straight through ceded Lakota Country. The currently proposed route goes straight through the Cannonball River on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, but somehow is to be buried 90 feet under the river that connects to one of the largest rivers in the world – the Missouri River. And not needing an illustration to comprehend the situation, I understood immediately the possibility of any potential pollution was so large that I never believed it could or would occur.
But it did.
When construction began just off the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, it was the Facebook posting of LaDonna Allard that moved me to anger. It was a feeling I can’t say I’ve ever experienced. Her request was for everyone and anyone to come to Standing Rock to help them stop the building of the pipeline.
I went as soon as I could.
I arrived Monday at 9:30 am and there were already hundreds of people protesting the gates of the construction site with several dozen police officers in uniform. Emotions were high. From the moment I stepped out of the vehicle, it was the most intense, most powerful experience I’ve been in the presence of.
People were holding signs that read Mni Wiconi, NODAPL, We Can’t Drink Oil, and Save our bebelas (babies in Lakota). Not once did I see a sign that had the words Native, Indian, Red, Power,White, or Pigs in it.
Everyone greeted everyone, immediately. There were Native people there, of course. And there were priests, police officers, white people of all shades, news people, cameras, children, workers of the pipeline, elders, dogs, horses, and holy men.
The people shouted.
“How would explain to your grandchildren that you allowed their water to be poisoned?”
“We live here, we want our water to be clean!”
“This is our Mother! We all live here!”
Songs were sung.
People crossed the line to get arrested.
Emotions continued to rise.
A delegation of Rosebud Lakota arrived with a trailer of horses dressed in decorated armor and charged the police officers guarding the gate until they collectively left. And although sounding like an act of aggression, it is a custom among the Lakota to greet people on a horse much like it is for Americans to pat down and thoroughly search every person that desires to enter the United States of America.
And it was when the police left is when women jumped the construction site fence and charged the workers and tractors. At the immediate presence of women charging them, all of the workers put their hands up and walked off the construction site. What the people witnessed was history. Lakota women charged and risked rules, regulations, laws and safety to protect our precious resource we all need at all moments of our lives: water.
The people stood up to oil and big money to protect our precious resource. And although near tribal land, the issue has never been about politics, it has been about protecting and saving the Earth we all live on.
Long ago, many tribes gave up millions of their ancestral lands with the clause of being consulted if any developments or resources were to be both taken and/or transported through the lands they gave up. And it took the largest class action lawsuit in the country’s history to make America fulfill these specific words (the Cobell settlement). Nearly a hundreds went on before any payments were issued for developments on Indian land.
Long, long ago, a bunch of white guys created a document called the Constitution of the United States of America.
It is within that document that sites that all treaties “are the supreme law of the land.” In other words, it is an agreement that this country stands by and it is our responsibility to ensure it continues to do so.
The supreme law of the land among American Indians is that we are borrowing this land from our unborn children. It is through our belief and blood that we protect and cherish Mother Earth.
The situation at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was a living testament that people still believe that we must preserve and protect Mother Earth for the coming generations. Any minuscule threat of a pipeline spillage under water would create devastation that is immeasurable and that is, by human knowledge, unacceptable.
I have witnessed the people gather to protect our most precious resource, not to address a tragic history. But also, history was witnessed. It was the first time all the band of the Lakota have gathered together since the Battle of Greasy Grass when General George Armstrong Custer was defeated.
The emotions were awesome. The survival of a people nearly exterminated reminded us all that we are all a part of creation and we all deserve to live, breath and have access to clean water.
I witnessed a new generation of American Indian people standing up for a way of life that will benefit us all. Tribe followed Tribe. Person followed person regardless of race. Every person that drove by the protest site stopped and raised a fist in the air. Even the police, who were doing their jobs, were in support and expressed how they weren’t comfortable in protecting a potential major disaster being built. It was, however, their job.
At the front lines were many young people, younger than me, and women standing, shouting, moving the crowds to take action. The people stopped construction.
It was a beautiful site and experience and, although in a time and situation that is less than desirable, people far and wide stood up and will continue to stand up to ensure this place we all call home remains intact for our coming generations.
This is about ensuring the survival of our species on this planet, not about money. Mainstream media has mentioned words like violence, militants, and pipe bombs. Apparently when Native people mention, “we are going to load our pipes,” they automatically assume explosions, not the pipe who the Lakota people live by.
There is an engendered dislike towards American Indian people, especially near larger populations for reasons still unclear to the human experience. And when American Indian people stand up and use their voice, the dislike and hate pokes its head out every time. Mainstream media coverage fails to cover this situation and paints a story that it’s one particular tribe that is causing the delay and rather than see a precious resource preserved, people would rather see the pipeline built simply so that American Indian people do not win. So, when the issue is about our most precious resource, it has become an issue about race and as a people we should be far beyond this. Those who traveled and have demonstrated clearly voice it was never about race, it is about water the future generations.
This is a movement led by prayer, of all walks of life. At all moments are prayers being offered and said and moving forward it will remain as such. Pray people. Prayer is powerful and the people need it.
You can help this movement at by CLICKING HERE.
Darren Thompson (Ojibwe/Tohono O’odham) is a Native American flute player and educator from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. He is one of Crazy Horse Memorial’s main performers and the opening act of Brulé’s summer concert series in the Black Hills. He also is a contributor for Native Peoples Magazine, Native News Online, powwows.com and the media coordinator for the Black Hills Unity Concert. For more information please visit www.darrenthompson.net