Edwardson tells of weekend with Standing Rock Sioux

During the weekend of October 21-23, I had the immense honor of visiting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota to march in solidarity with those working to protect their water, land, and sovereignty as they resist the Dakota Access Pipeline, the same pipeline that is being constructed diagonally across Iowa.

photo by Patti Edwardson
photo by Patti Edwardson

From my position of white privilege and with my middle class perspective, I was deeply humbled by the peaceful, prayerful actions of the people of Standing Rock and was reminded of the historic struggles that this fight is built upon. Even as I write this, I know my words are not the words the world needs to hear to understand this struggle. My purpose in relaying my insignificant experience is to help bring awareness to central Iowans as to what our Native neighbors are fighting for, and why, and to encourage readers to learn more and to take action.

My experience at the Oceti Sakowin camp, rising at 5:30 am with the gentle but persistent call for all to come to the sacred fire and prayer ceremony, and participating in the action of the day alongside water protectors, was one that cannot leave me complacent. Through prayer and nonviolent actions, the men, women, and children of Standing Rock and their hundreds of indigenous, Native, and non-native supporters showed me how people can come together to change our world for the better. However, these water protectors are up against a powerful oil industry that is backed by a militarized police force, and they are putting their own bodies and lives on the line.

The concerns of the people of Standing Rock go deep. While the pipeline puts at risk the waters of the Missouri River, the main drinking source for the reservation, even more unthinkable is that the pipeline is going through their sacred ancestral burial grounds. Construction is tearing through land that was granted to the Sioux in the Treaty of 1851 and taken away only a few years later as the Standing Rock Reservation was reduced in size.

The historical significance of this pipeline and how it reinforces and continues the indignities, mistreatment and injustices that the Native people of this country have endured is at the heart of this protest. This fight is a continuation of the fight for the sovereignty of Native peoples, for the right to determine the water they drink and the food they eat, and the right to self-government that affects their culture, their traditions, and their future generations. This struggle has much in common with the struggles of indigenous and native peoples around the world.

At the Oceti Sakowin camp and throughout the prayerful, peaceful actions, I witnessed people who were not only tenacious and determined but also joyful and welcoming. Despite the escalating militarization of law enforcement and the knowledge that infiltrators could be among them, spirits of the water protectors remained high. They refused to give in to fear, continued to pray, and believed that they can change the hearts and minds of those in power to stop this pipeline.

For all of us concerned about a just society, the sovereignty of indigenous and Native people everywhere, and a livable planet for future generations, we cannot afford to be complacent. Support for the actions of the water protectors in North Dakota is necessary to stop this pipeline and begin a new era of renewable energy; to stop the violence enacted on unarmed civil disobedient demonstrators, here and around the world, by militarized law enforcement who are protecting the profits of an extractive and destructive industry; and to dismantle colonialism, neoliberal policies, and the capitalistic logic that takes away the rights of people and destroys natural resources in the name of economic progress.

The time is critical. The pipeline is nearly finished. Here in Iowa, as of this writing, drilling problems have delayed the laying of the pipe under the Des Moines River. Questions arise as to the increased risks these problems will pose if oil is ever pumped under this river. In North Dakota, drilling is about to begin, unless the Army Corps of Engineers calls for a halt, under the great Missouri River.

What can you do? Call President Obama today and tell him to de-escalate the militarization against these peaceful protectors, immediately send Justice Department observers, and immediately enforce law to stop Dakota Access from construction: White House 202-456-1111

Below are resources to learn more about this issue, to divest from financial institutions that support this project, and to donate to Standing Rock:

Patti Edwardson, Churdan

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