In recognition of the controversial North Dakota access pipeline development on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, Southern Ute Indian tribal members and community members gathered on Sunday, Sept. 25 for an awareness walk sponsored by Daisy Bluestar and “Daughters of the Red Road”. With approximately 40 participants, the walk was led from SunUte Community Center to Scott’s Pond, where Hanley Frost gave a blessing.
“We are here in honor of our brothers and sisters in the North,” stated Frost. “We are all part of that water. Everything we see beyond here, the trees, birds, animals, we all come from it. We sing these songs for the spirits and to bless the people up North. We fight for that water because it is sacred to us.”
Protests on the Bakken pipeline have been a heated debate since development began near Cannonball, North Dakota in the summer of 2016. The pipeline would stretch 1,134 miles (1825 km) through four states, and would carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day, allowing rail constraints to ease.
However, concerns from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and several Sioux tribal nations erupted with disagreement. Tribal members stated that the pipeline could threaten their water supply from the Missouri River, as well as destroy numerous native artifacts and burial sites. Now, tribal nations from across North America have come out to stand with Standing Rock, organizing the group “ReZpect Our Water” with hopes of putting a stop to the pipeline.
Tribal elder Raymond Frost commented, “We are here to help the people in Standing Rock. We have to fight for them because we are all together. We must show our support for them. Water is our livelihood. We must keep it purified and clean for future generations.”
In early September during the Labor Day weekend, tensions erupted between Native Americans and security workers as the use of attack dogs and pepper spray came into action, resulting in more than 30 arrests. Six protesters were treated for dog bites.
Jakey Douglas Skye, an Albuquerque resident, spoke his opinion about the pipeline at Scott’s Pond and gave best wishes to the people in the North.
“It’s an honor to be here with the Southern Ute people,” he said. “It’s a beautiful feeling to come together in unity and stand up for Mother Earth. We have only one, and we have to take care of it. We’re standing up for our rights as native people. Greed and money is all it has ever been about. This is supposed to be about our government honoring the treaties that they gave us. Now we’re fighting the same fight our ancestors went through many years ago. Nothing has changed, and they answer with violence when we are being peaceful. We learn that violence never solves anything. Instead, we fight through prayer and love from the Creator.”
The Standing Rock Indian Reservation is the sixth largest reservation in the U.S. with a population of 8,250 as of the 2000 census. In 2014, President Barack Obama accompanied by Michelle Obama made his first visit to an Indian reservation during the annual Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration. It was one of the few visits by a sitting American President to an Indian reservation.
“It’s sad to see what this has become,” stated tribal elder Marjorie Borst who participated in Sunday’s event. “Native people are still people, and we need to be recognized. It’s important to give back to Mother Earth. This should be a wake up call to people, because it’s depressing to hear about what is going on up there.”
Tribal member Shelly Thompson described her experience at Standing Rock when she visited the reservation, “What the people in Standing Rock need are blankets and tents, because winter is coming and they won’t stand down. This isn’t about the pipeline; it’s about tribal sovereignty. The protest isn’t a [Native American] issue; it’s a people and life issue. It’s about people protecting what is right.”
Thompson says she plans to pay another visit to Standing Rock soon, this time with blankets, sleeping bags, tents, and other supplies to aide the protesters.
Kasey Correia, representative of Dancing Spirit, showed admiration for the native protesters.
“We all are one, and water is life. I have friends that are visiting Standing Rock and I pray for them. We can’t continue to keep disregarding native people. We need to completely shut down that pipeline. We need to be in harmony with Mother Nature. I think it’s great that there is an awakening coming to see the changes unfold.”
“We need to start paying attention to our Mother Earth, our health, and our heritage,” stated Daisy Bluestar, an organizer of the Standing Rock walk. “If we don’t protect our water now, then it’s going to be gone. This generation needs to open their eyes and make a change.”
Conrad Thompson commented, “This is a strong message that we must send out. As for our younger generations, they need to step up and voice their opinions. This issue with the water isn’t about tribal politics; the issue is that water is life. This is something that can’t be pushed under the rug.”