Standing in Solidarity with Standing Rock: Protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline
Jessica Chin | 9/23/16 8:58am
| Updated 9/23/16 8:58am
American Word Magazine
Jasilyn Charger, a representative of the National Indigenous Youth Council and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, spent a month walking from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. This month-long trip demonstrates the dedication and passion behind the movement she is leading, #NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline), aimed at preventing the construction of a controversial pipeline that would carry crude oil from Dakota to Illinois. Charger spoke as the representative of the indigenous youth who headed the campaign to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at a rally held at the White House on September 13. The campaign has united an unprecedented coalition of Native Tribes and led to an encampment of thousands at the pipeline’s construction site.
The pipeline is controversial because it violates historic agreements between the federal government and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. #NoDAPL proponents, clean energy supporters, Native American and Indigenous People’s rights activists, Fossil Free AU members and American University’s Students Advocating for Native Communities representatives joined in the nationwide Day of Action in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The demonstration sought to highlight voices of the indigenous community members present at the rally. However, celebrity speakers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) helped garner more media attention to the cause.
The rally’s AU promoters, Fossil Free AU and Student Advocates of Native Communities, posted flyers for the event around campus. Members of both student organizations attended the event to stand in solidarity with Standing Rock. “I thought it was very powerful to hear from native people,” Moira Nolan of Fossil Free AU said. “It’s great to see young women on the front lines of change.” Quinn Buchwald, president of the Student Advocates of Native Communities and member of the Native American student population at American University commented, “D.C. is very important for native people…it’s been a hub for Indian policy.”
However, despite policy work, “…the encroachment on Native lands keeps occurring,” said Buchwald.
Protests like these around the country and the unwavering dissent of those camped at the construction site likely influenced a ruling by a U.S. federal appeal court on September 16 to temporarily halt partial construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This response from higher judicial power recognizes the historically quieted voices of the youth, indigenous peoples and environmental activists. It’s clear that this united front of the long underserved communities of this country are shifting the future of America’s political landscape.
However, one of the less transparent issues surrounding the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is the threat it poses to Native American women who face the very real prospect of sexual assault on their own land by the influx of unfamiliar construction workers. The opposition against the pipeline is two-fold in that it endangers both environmental protection and the safety of Native American women living on the reservation. “We are the people, you can’t ignore us,” they chanted. “We will not let you build this pipeline.”
The climate of the rally was a mix of frustration over the federal government’s decision in favor of corporate interests, and optimism regarding the interests of Native American people and environmental groups. More optimistic activists hoped that they could achieve a similar outcome to the Keystone Pipeline. Charger’s testimony showed that those in favor of stopping the pipeline’s construction, especially members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous People, have nothing to lose. She left the crowd with the impression that the cause is worth running from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. for.
Sometimes the trouble it takes to commute to attend such events in the city hampers the incentive of students to get off campus to attend the rallies in D.C. that are at the crux of where public and political discourse emerges. Charger ran to Washington, D.C. to make her statement, perhaps the least we can do as students and as active citizens is to make the trek to listen.