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Standing Rock Lives On: My Experience at the Native Nations Rise March in DC

It may seem all the actions are fragmented, but they are not, because now we are becoming as one. Mni Wiconi!

Demonstrators take part in the Native Nations Rise March in Washington, DC, on March 10, 2017. (Photo: Courtesy of Four Arrows)

My plane landed at Dulles International Airport at 1:20 am. The fact that the airport was named for a former Republican Secretary of State who “continued his support for the Nazi platform right up to the time Germany invaded Poland” reminded me of what we were up against. I wrapped myself in a blanket and waited until 7 when the airport bus and the metro system started operating. It was March 10, the morning of the scheduled Native Nations Rise march through downtown Washington, DC. The march was organized by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Native Organizers Alliance and the Indigenous Environmental Network to continue the momentum of the Standing RockWater Protection Movement and to raise awareness about the many related issues. For four days groups met in dialogue and ceremony.

It was cold and raining when I met with my Veterans for Peace comrades as scheduled by Veterans for Peace board member Brian Trautman. Members from five states were there including Bill Perry and Jules Orkin, who was finishing up an 8-day, 90 miles peace walk for water protection awareness led by Jun-san Yasuda, a well-known international activist and Buddhist nun. At the starting point in front of the Building Museum, in spite of the freezing rain, people encouraged one another with prayer, songs and speakers, reminding everyone of the importance of the gathering.

Every five or ten minutes someone would shout out “Mni Wiconi! The words echoed several times throughout the crowd reminding everyone present that water is indeed the essence and foundation of life on Earth and that it is our responsibility to protect it.

As we moved toward out destination, more and more people joined our ranks until I estimated there were at least 5,000 of us. The synergy felt as powerful as it had at Standing Rock. The group was definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Power expands when individuals work together to change systems. The energy of Indigenous peoples and our allies around the world was expanding here on the streets of the nation’s capital.

People who had been watching us joined the march or yelled out support as they passed us by. I spoke with a law student, a legislative aide, an employee of the EPA and people from all walks of life who knew about the state and federal violations of law and human rights that happened in North Dakota and were there to give support for the growing Indigenous-based movement. A Nigerian man named Adigun who had been driving taxicabs in DC for 25 years told me about how Shell and Haliburton had destroyed waterways and wildlife of the Niger delta with their oil drilling in South South Nigeria. He said Indigenous activists were executed by the Nigerian government at the bidding of the corporations “just like Energy Transfer Partners paid off the North Dakota governor and others.” He mentioned Ken Saro-Wiwa as being one of them, and I remembered the name. History repeats if we are not aware of it sufficiently to prevent it from doing so.

There were also dozens of media reporters covering the event. I had given an interview to a PBS reporter and one of the Veterans for Peace members just sent an article that captured some of what I said on the event for the online PBS NEWSHOUR:

Four Arrows, an indigenous member of Veterans for Peace, said the country’s hawkish foreign policy and approach to energy development began negatively impacting indigenous people and the environment long before Trump got elected. Still, he said, he appreciated that people were becoming aware of the issues.

“When Trump was elected we had a lot of non-Indians supporting us, almost 15,000 people at StandingRock, crying and mad, and the Indian people, we were all just sort of smiling,” said Four Arrows, a former dean of education at Oglala Lakota College. “And finally one Lakota woman went over to a lady … and said, ‘Honey welcome to our world.’ Because we’ve been living with this for 200 years.”

The good news, he added, “is this is in your face now. Americans are waking up, and starting to realize what we’ve done in killing the indigenous worldview [and] the biodiversity of the planet.”

Although I did expect there would be lots of media at the event, I did not expect such support from the citizens of DC. I was somewhat confident that there would not be the militarization and terrorism used against us as had happened continually in North Dakota. In spite of anti-protest policies that have been emboldened under Trump administration, the residents of DC are mostly liberal and the police are used to handling peaceful protests. This time there were no angry militia shooting at us or knocking us down. The police were merely giving us safe passage for this action and none were wearing riot gear. I felt as if the Standing Rock confrontation with DAPL had educated many people who witnessed the march. A transformation of consciousness was happening. Most of the people I saw or spoke with seemed to act as if they were part of the growing community. They used language that had sprung from the Indigenous ways of understanding we are part of Mother Earth. They seemed to realize that water is alive and trying its best to keep its responsibility to sustain life.

At the end of the march, the lineup of speakers at Lafayette Square began with Xihhtezcatl Martinez, a 16-year-old Meshika of the Aztec people of Mexico City who lives in Colorado. He is now a youth director of Earth Guardians; when he was only 12, President Obama gave him a national community service award for his activism. I had not heard him speak before and was impressed by his powerful charisma and oratory. He told the cheering crowd that everything Trump’s administration stands for will push people to resist and to remember who we really are. He said this movement was not about a single pipeline alone but about stopping all the oil and gas corporations’ push for the sake of money alone. He spoke about it being the time finally to put an end to violating human rights for Indigenous Peoples around the world and said that non-Indigenous people are helping because they know at long last that they are next because “we are all Indigenous to this Earth.”

Meanwhile, while DAPL continues drilling and court battles continue waging about so many potential illegalities surround DAPL, such as whether Trump’s executive order that reversed the Army’s requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement, the divestment movement against those investing in oil companies continues to grow. Demonstrations are happening around the world in behalf of things sacred to the worldview that guided us all for 99 percent of human history, from honoring the legitimate power of women to remembering that we cannot put the human species above nature. Although the state and federal militia forcefully evicted a number of Water Protector campsites in North Dakota, an active camp is being maintained on private land by the Cheyenne River Tribe with support from Veterans Stand, led by Michael Woods. As protests, civil disobedience, legislative efforts, legal efforts and divestment efforts continue, we must all join together in educating praying and healing. It may seem that all the actions are fragmented, but they are not, because now we are becoming as one.

Mni Wiconi!

Mitakuye Oyasin.

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