SustainUs COP22 Delegation

COP22

Our delegation has begun booking flights.  At our retreat in California this last week, we filmed a video for our fundraiser:

 

<a class=”embedly-card” href=”https://www.generosity.com/volunteer-fundraising/sustainus-cop22-fundraiser–2″>SustainUS COP22 Fundraiser</a>
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https://www.generosity.com/volunteer-fundraising/sustainus-cop22-fundraiser–2

 

Donate, share, and communicate!  We are looking to bring issues to COP22, including #NoDAPL work.

#NoDAPL – Part 4

A Reflection on Standing with Standing Rock

In the words of the Standing Rock Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Jon Eagle, Sr., “The last time the seven bands of the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota nation stood together was at the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Battle of the Little Big Horn), June 25, 1876. So this is historic that they answered that call.”

While standing at the Sacred Stone Campground, I have so many emotions. Today, when we gather inter-tribally, it’s for a prize purse at a powwow, for Pan-Indian things like Walking Tacos and Talking Circles. But this is something completely different. This goes beyond the realm of comprehension to those familiar only with the Pan-Indian or stereotypical representations of Native culture(s). My standing here at Standing Rock…This is being an outsider to Lakota country and culture, yet also being asked to bring your own prayers, your own ceremonies, your own moccasins. It is the look on people’s faces, particularly the Standing Rock tribal members who see yet another person who has arrived to the camp. Whether you have driven from Seattle or Bismarck, your presence touches these people in a way too deep to imagine. You’ve made that decision to show up on their behalf, in part because you have the foresight to know you have also shown up to defend the global lifeblood.

The community is so warm. If you’re part of the human five-fingered clan, you are at home. You will be fed, you will be looked after and protected. There are medics, lawyers, people volunteering to defend the entrances. The calmness around the panic is almost uncanny, but the warmth is something you can never forget. Example: Paul and I had just left the site of the protest on Saturday. There were the police, parked on the side of the highway, watching us walk back towards the Reservation. Rather than rant about vicious dogs and helicopters, Paul and I were unusually calm. Something felt right about the chaos. We began picking up trash along the highway, expressing frustration at those who litter. We were joined by Brian and his boyfriend Brenden, Northern Ute, who had risked taking their clunker from Salt Lake City to join the protest. Without hesitation, they offered us a ride back to camp. Later that evening, when Paul and I checked in on the scout camp where we had torn down the fences, we picked up a stranger who was walking back to camp in the dark. Nothing but jokes and comments about our gratitude for the event. We didn’t even exchange names.

The diversity of the people at this event is just mind-boggling. Imagine if the United Nations could produce this much success in organizing nations around a common goal. Imagine if COP22 could look like this degree of ceremony, of cooperation. There are the activists who view this as a thrilling Alcatraz Occupation Part 2; there are the community members, young to old; there are reporters from Democracy Now and individual writers who sacrificed themselves on the frontline to tell our stories; there are the horse trainers, nature enthusiasts, teachers, singers, and the people without titles. From everywhere, they are coming and going, an endless ebb and flow of diversity. Even in a parking lot in Bismarck, they mill in and out. The hashtags Paul and I painted on our windows led us to meet mothers and Haudenosaunee activists Paula Hemlock and Rhea Cook, freshly arrived from Onondaga Nation, disenchanted by the shortcomings of their own tribal government and completely outraged by the negligence of the feds.

Here in southern North Dakota, the landscape is crinkled and empty, but full of stories and whispers. Our camp fills the silence with drumbeats and smoke. This camp is a living memory of how community used to be in these hills. There are the ghosts of the many before us, the direct bloodlines to those we stand beside today. There are the ghosts of the buffalo that haven’t flooded the grassy knolls since American soldiers massacred them. Even without the buffalo, a cubic foot of prairie has more biodiversity than a mono-cropped field of GMO corn could ever dare to replicate. To the untrained eyes and ears, this is empty space. Perhaps that ignorance explains how the energy company failed to report so many archaeological sites that knowledgeable tribal historians could identify from afar. It is that same deafness and same blindness that prevents one from seeing what is, ensuring they will never be able to look back and see what was after it has been destroyed.

Paul and I climbed the hills to view the camp. We watched busloads of people arrive, people cheering happily all around. Coach buses with tribal seals branded on the side. School buses packed with eager families. Like clockwork, volunteers take up posts. They chop wood, keep fires stoked, accept enormous deliveries of donations, prepare food, stand guard at security points, feed and water horses, stand on guard as scouts along Highway 1806. No one is getting paid to be here. No one is expecting glory or a raise. On the contrary, the sacrifices are heavy for many. But the perspective keeps us in check: No sacrifice could be greater than allowing your sovereignty to be compromised, or by allowing your lifeblood to be destroyed by someone who’s getting rich quick in Texas.

I remember reading about the Lakotas harvesting hognuts. They would take nuts from mouse holes in the prairie during the colder months, but they would not rob the mice. Instead, when they took nuts from a mouse’s hiding place, they would replace what they took with bits of corn or berries. It is a sign of respect, of appreciation for biodiversity. Symbiosis. And as I float on my back in the Cannonball River, cooling off from a hot day on the frontlines, I think about the mice and the hognuts. I see the dozens of children and adults playing in the water, wading in canoes, enjoying these waters peacefully. I see more frogs and toads than I can count dodging into the deep footprints left in the muddy banks. A heron wades under the bridge. Butterflies cross the banks and fields of sage. I have seen what a place like this looks like after a spill. I have been a first responder. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m trying to save because, by then, everything has already died. Should a spill happen here, the damage to this biodiversity would be devastated. Should the construction of the pipeline continue, the sovereignty of hundreds of nations would be mocked.

The government keeps taking hognuts from our storehouses, but there is no symbiosis here. There never was any. Yet, like the shorebird covered in oil after a spill, we won’t leave and we certainly won’t die. You can try to take the Lakota’s land, desecrate their sites, and kill their buffalo, but they will not be defeated. And every time you rob their communities, you can rely on today’s tribal nations banding together to fill that empty space with corn, berries, and prayers.

#NoDAPL – Part 3

My Experience at the Front Lines in Standing Rock

I left Phoenix on the evening of September 1st, driving through a double rainbow that I believed to be Navajo blessings for good travel. I passed through my home in Window Rock and picked up my friend Paul from Denver on the 2nd. We headed through Nebraska and South Dakota, crossing countless traditional territories and Reservation boundaries, weaving across the prairie. We kept driving on through the night until we arrived in Cannon Ball the morning of Saturday, September 3rd. Paul and I come from very separate social communities, yet we had both been exposed to the #NoDAPL fight through some degree of the Native Grapevine. However, we knew the coverage was incredibly limited; so limited, in fact, that mainstream media had failed to truly cover the story at that point in our journey. I was dying to know how many people were actually at the camp.

When we rounded the bend in the road and crossed the Cannonball River on the edge of Reservation land, we were greeted with a great field of tipis, tents, horse trailers, cars, and flags. Flags in medicine wheel colors, flags from the American Indian Movement, and flags from countless sovereign tribal nations, Mexico, and Canada. Upside-down American flags, even an overturned Hawai’ian flag, representing many islands of indigenous peoples struggling for sovereignty against tourism and exploitation. There was the Navajo Nation flag, standing as an equal alongside communities so unrelated and yet so similarly affected by historical trauma and continued oppression. To a non-Native who only knows the stereotypes of Indian peoples, Sacred Stone Campground looks like an Indian encampment. For Natives, it is breathtaking.

As we walked around the camp, I ogled at the diversity present. I observed every moccasin, identifying people’s tribes by their beadwork or shoe style. I stumbled upon Lakota tipis and makeshift sweat lodges, small prayer gatherings held by individual nations, a communal circle surrounding the outdoor kitchen that showcases the diversity of dances, prayers, and song. To think of how this diversity is silenced by the umbrella label “Indian” is heartbreaking, but to see how a shared love for Turtle Island and fellow man brings these Nations together is uplifting. Never in the history of time has a gathering like this happened. Ever.

And Saturday started like any other day. After the camp was fed by the amazing volunteers, using food from incredible stockpiles of donations, people of all ages and backgrounds gathered on Highway 1806 and began marching northward. Some wore traditional clothes, others in everyday jeans. Many had signs. Some sang and maintained a drumbeat. We gathered on the side of the highway, next to concrete Jersey barriers and more flags. We prayed. We smudged. A helicopter kept circling us and vanishing over the hill. Some grew faint in the heat, and our appreciation for water only grew stronger. Then, as we were ready to head back, people from a guard stand just over the knoll from us came shouting, “Over the hill! Over the hill! They’re doing construction, this is your time!”

Just like that, the horses U-turned in the grass berms. The women who had been singing gathered their tiered skirts and picked their songs back up. We walked faster now, with purpose. There was an eagle soaring in the sky; it seemed to chase a plane out of sight. Were these more signs?

When we came to the other side of the hill, there we saw them: several construction men standing around as bulldozers barreled through land. We had a moment of confusion: Why were they digging here? On a Saturday? Miles from where construction had paused days before? Less than 24 hours before, the Standing Rock Tribe had filed an injunction based on countless burials that had been discovered in the direct pathway of the pipeline. (The energy company had claimed everything had been cleared, but no one had consulted the historians from the tribe.) Then we realized: They came here to destroy the graves before the courts could take action against them.

I can’t even describe the feeling of being at the frontline at that time. I was scared, because I didn’t want to get arrested. I was afraid the police would shoot us for no reason other than being Native American. Yet I couldn’t stop my heart from pounding. There was so much adrenaline, so much energy. People began pouring in from behind, hundreds of people on foot with more arriving on horseback and by vehicle. Screaming, singing, praying. Waving signs. Crying. Shouting, “WE FORGIVE YOU! NOW PLEASE STOP!” And when they wouldn’t stop desecrating the hillside unmercifully, we rocked and rocked on the fence. A little boy holding a drum crossed with his mom to face the foreman. Democracy Now kept rolling the film. The fences came down and people surrounded to protect the boy, then to protect the earth.

With tribal flags hoisted high and signs reading “Water is life”, we crossed the fence, chased after bulldozers, and hopped across heaps of broken earth. Some kneeled to the ground to put down tobacco in the wounds. The rest of us ran, ran, ran until we crested another knoll and ran head into a private security force with dogs. Some Crow Creek boys raced bareback on the horses they had brought up from South Dakota and rushed to the frontlines where men and women were falling to their knees. Our opponents were repeatedly pepper spraying us for walking forward. Security dogs spun wildly on leashes, barely controlled by the dog handlers. The horseback squad attempted to distract the dogs, several horses getting bitten in the process. Flag-bearers began using their nations’ symbols in self-defense from the snarling dogs. As people fell to the ground, screaming in pain from the pepper spray in their eyes, the foreshadowing cry could be heard: “Water! Water! We need water! Does anyone have any water they can spare?”

These crews were here illegally. They were intentionally destroying ceremonial places and human remains. What choice did we have? To stand there and let them do it? Or to do exactly what we did and offer forgiveness while begging for them to stop? The oppression has happened for centuries now. When will it finally end? When will Natives finally have accurate depiction in the media?

I want to know why no one asks the Tribal leaders or Tribal police what happened that day. I want to know why they asked a North Dakota Sheriff who never left the side of the highway what happened on the frontlines. He did not come to protect those with rights to their own treaty land from the vicious and uncontrolled dogs, clearly trained to attack us. He did not ensure we had proper medical care when people were bitten by the dogs or pepper sprayed repeatedly in their open eyes. Yet mainstream media paints us as criminals for defending ourselves and each other, our land, our rights, the sacred sites of our allies. Furthermore, they used quotation marks to refer to these burials as “sacred sites”, as if we talk about going to “church” on Christmas or visiting the “graves” at Arlington Cemetery. This erasure of culture and censorship in the media is nothing short of modern day genocide.

 

#NoDAPL – Part 2

Why I Came to Standing Rock

So who am I?

I am a Generation Indigenous Youth Ambassador, a participant of the 1st White House Tribal Youth Gathering, and a resident of the Navajo Nation. I study the Navajo language at Diné College and am earning my Masters of Mechanical Engineering from Arizona State University. Last year, I represented Indigenous Peoples at the United Nation’s 2nd Universal Periodic Review of the United States held in Geneva, Switzerland. This year, I will be traveling with the SustainUs COP22 Delegation to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, a journey that blends beautifully with my goal of one day earning a PhD related to tribal policy, clean energy research, and divesting oil-dependent Reservations. I also serve on the Environmental Protection Agency’s NEJAC/Youth Perspectives on Climate Working Group, with Engineer Without Border’s Nicaraguan Interim Impact Review team, and as a Civil Engineer working with compliance and permitting for the Navajo Nation tribal government. Shí éí Ats’oos Dine’é nishłį́, bilagáana bashishchiin, Béésh Bich’ahii dashicheii, adóó ‘Ats’oos Dine’é dashinalí.

When my article was published in the Navajo Times on August 11, 2016 calling for Navajo tribal leadership to declare solidarity with the people of Standing Rock, I felt like I was putting a lot of energy into something that would never happen. The Navajo Nation is just too heavily invested in oil, so heavily in fact that its Tribal Council was handpicked by the Federal Government in 1923 just to sign oil leases over to non-tribal corporations. I had called many offices in Window Rock, asking if any formal statements had been issued by leadership against a pipeline’s construction, whether on Navajo or not, and every response confirmed the silence that had come from Navajo Nation on these issues. I was fresh with frustration and anger from my Navajo Nation Government class this summer, a class which detailed exactly how the American government has manipulated and controlled the Navajo people for centuries, developing their resources and stealing their funds. (Navajo Nation has won the largest lawsuit of any Indian Nation against the Federal Government for this theft.) The government even let corporations tear apart Navajo-Hopi relations, displace thousands of tribal members from their homes, and employ tribal people to work under dangerous standards in uranium mines without properly educating them on the risks they were being forced to take. With all the power these corporations have over Americans – and especially over First Americans – why in the world would leadership hear our cries for solidarity with Standing Rock against DAPL? Many friends even told me it was a lot of work for nothing.

Then, a week after my article hit the presses, the Office of the President and Vice President of Navajo Nation formally declared solidarity with Standing Rock.

I was floored. This, in and of itself, was history, an incredible precedent set for the Navajo people, for the divestment of Dinébikeyah. When I saw the photos of President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez hoisting the Navajo Nation flag into the line of solidarity flags in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, I knew I had to do my part and join the fight.

 

#NoDAPL – Part 1

An Unprecedented Diversity in Representation

Something is happening on Turtle Island that has never happened before, and mainstream media still refuses to report it. It is the gathering of hundreds of sovereign Nations to fight one thread of corporate America. But to understand the breathtaking reality of the situation, I should first paint you a picture.

Hundreds of years ago, Turtle Island (the “Americas”) was heavily populated with an incredible diversity of people. There were Nations in the Andes with large lungs well-adapted to the altitude; there were vast cities on the Yucatan Peninsula with intricate ceremonies to maintain their balance; there were entire groups of peoples thriving off the icy hills of the Arctic Circle. In present-day America, there were longhouses in the northeast, wigwams in the Midwest, tipis on the prairies, hogans in the southwest, and plank houses in the northwest. These were people who traded abalone shells and other goods across thousands of miles; but these were also people who were not a people. They were many peoples. They were many Nations. To this day, we remain, and we remain as many Nations. We remain this way, yet we are identified, stereotyped, and degraded as one “race” of people whose stories, histories, and religions continue to be inferior to the mainstream America.

The label “Indian” is a legal term, but it is a misnomer that reminds us of how poor Columbus really was at his job (navigating) to think he was in India when he met people from the Caribbean. He is venerated for discovering America, a country he never even set eyes on, yet more than 567 tribal nations in the United States alone are now legally united under the term “Indian”. Even the title “Native American” is Euro-Centric. Many people prefer to be called by their citizenship, for example “Navajo” (or, as said in Navajo, “Diné”). Imagine all the folks at the Italian-American Club being called “European-American” and being stereotyped the same was as a Russian-American, Irish-American, or even Turkish-American. Perhaps the greatest irony is that “Native Americans” enrolled with their Nations could not legally be American citizens until 1924 – that is, if they even wanted to be citizens of the same country that committed centuries of genocide against them.

If you want to understand how this generalization – this racism – affects the way people perceive Native Americans and the way Native Americans often view themselves, I highly recommend logging into Netflix and watching Reel Injun.

Can you begin to grasp the diversity of tribal nations in North America? Can you see how these nations are no more similar than European countries with territorial boundaries drawn on a map? That each of these tribal nations comes with its own Creation Story, its own religions, its own set of constellations in the same sky? Many of these Nations were once enemies fighting for territories and resources, yet today we all face a greater enemy: The people who determined us as the same People, the people who have labeled us “Indian”…Those are the same people who have exerted their political powers to create Reservation boundaries near or thousands of miles away from traditional land; they’re the same people who have made it illegal for certain Native populations to carry eagle feathers in ceremony; the same people who marched the “Five Civilized Tribes” hundreds of miles; the same people who held the Navajo in a concentration camp for four years; the same people who started residential boarding schools to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” (government motto); the same people who shot buffalo and livestock to starve out populations, hanged Natives under Lincoln’s racist orders, and dissolved traditional governments or tribal status when tribal Nations refused to sign over all of their rights. (Another good film to watch: go on YouTube and find Broken Rainbow.)

Now that you see the diversity of indigenous Nations to this country and their historic individuality, you might begin to see the significance of what is happening in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Allegedly over 150 Native Nations from the continent have already made the journey to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to announce their positions of solidarity with Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. These are Nations bound to each other by nothing other than a modern identity of “American” and a legal label of “Indian”. These are Nations who could have easily been natural enemies but who are now uniting against common enemies. But they are also Nations who acknowledge all human beings are related, all human beings share the same earth and atmosphere, and all human beings need clean water to live. We need these things, and so do all of the organisms that we rely on.

Let’s also pause for a moment to paint the picture of the Standing Rock people and who they are. The Nakota, Dakota, and Lakota peoples are all united under the modern term “Sioux”. Each branch has subgroups, and they all speak a similar language with many dialects. They are the people who have occupied the northern Plains since the time settlers began pushing west into their territory. It is this “frontier” conflict that gave birth to the stereotype of “Indians” who challenged “cowboys” while wearing headdresses, yield bows and arrows, riding horses, and retreating to tipis. Clearly this is not an accurate portrait of all “Native” peoples. Even the “Sioux” themselves are made of an incredibly diverse gathering of people.

The Standing Rock people are among the Lakota. Their reservation now straddles the boundary between southern North Dakota and northern South Dakota. Their traditional boundaries extend well beyond these arbitrary lines, and therefore their burials and sacred sites are also scattered across this great territory. When the Dakota Access Pipeline declared it would be passing through treaty land, the Standing Rock stood in a heartbeat to oppose it. This would threaten traditional land, sacred sites, and – of course – the health of water resources. And fighting pipelines is nothing new for the Lakota. It was just last year that Obama helped to effectively block the Keystone XL pipeline from threatening traditional lands as well as the Oglala Aquifer, the largest freshwater resource in the entire world.

 

DAPL intensifies.

How biased is the media you have access to?  Have you heard much about the DAPL?

I don’t have television, so I have no idea what is playing on the news.  I do know, however, that Google News has only articles from more obscure sources about DAPL and none of them are coming up as headlines.  Compare that to my social media feed, filled with articles and posts shared by my largely Native friend base, and you can see how little important Native news makes it into mainstream media.

People are being arrested.
The popular video being shared today is from AJ+ and shows peaceful protestors being arrested.  In one clip, a man who is walking away in a field is grabbed from behind and slammed to the ground as an officer handcuffs him.

DAPL is suing.
The energy company is claiming endangerment of its workers and a risk to its permits for delay in constructing its water crossings.  Ironically, the protestors are claiming endangerment of their lives should the construction continue, adding to the sentiment the pipeline is causing amongst the Standing Rock people: “Is an entire people expendable?”  The methods used to seek approval for construction of the pipeline are called into question.

More and more people are showing up.
I have a number of friends packing up their cars from Indiana to Idaho, ready to drive to North Dakota and risk arrest for the cause.  Shailene Woodley, Divergent actress, is already on-site defending alongside the Sioux.  Read her Twitter feed here.

30 youth just ran 2,000 miles.
They delivered a petition with 160,000 signatures to stop the pipeline to Washington.  They began on foot from North Dakota.

Protestors are asking for support.
DAPL supplies

The Cheyenne River Sioux stands in solidarity with Standing Rock.
This letter was written to Washington on behalf of the cause:

Furthermore, transportation was provided for protestors:
DAPL Cheyenne transport

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe are also backing up the Standing Sioux.DAPL Flandreau

Salish Sea Bio Region members are raising funds to support the Native groups.
They plan to travel from Washington to North Dakota to stand in support of defending land and water rights.  Their fundraiser is located here.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out as more people are planning to make the trip to North Dakota.  I just hope my friends stay safe; the Dakotas are not exactly known for polite police officers when it comes to Native peoples.

“I am the river and the river is me”: How New Zealand is defending Maori worldviews.

NZ2

Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in indigenous communities today is the laws that oversee their affairs but do not incorporate their own intrinsic values.  Western society has become so accustomed to a worldview developed through sets of values such as Christianity that it becomes difficult to separate these perspectives from our every day lives.  But not all peoples hold the same values, including the Maori in New Zealand.

Recently, New Zealand attorney general Chris Finlayson worked on agreements between the New Zealand government and various Maori groups to enable a swath of land or entire body of water to be granted personhood in the eyes of New Zealand law.

“In [the Maori] worldview,” stated Finlayson,”‘I am the river and the river is me’.  Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.”

This idea seems foreign to those who view “personhood” as something that belongs only to a human being.  But in a worldview that sees spirituality and what constitutes as living in a different light than what many Westerners see, this definition applies to traditional lands is completely logical.

NZ1.png

The former national park, Te Urewera, existed from 1954 to 2015 and consisted of 821 square miles of North Island.  Recently, the Te Urewera Act took effect so that the government abandoned its formal ownership and the land became its own legal entity, including having “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person” per the statute that was passed.  In other words, the park was granted personhood; a river system is expected to receive the same designation soon, once it passes Parliament.

This classifications seem like “unusual designations” for those accustomed to non-Maori worldview, yet the legal status is similar to that of corporations who are also not an individual human being.  The decision to grant personhood was a “profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world,” according to Pita Sharples, the minister of Maori affairs when the law passed.  The settlement resolved the ongoing argument between New Zealand government and Maori groups over the guardianship of natural features within the country.

One great advantage to passing this law for the sake of conservation is the power it gives to the land itself.  Lawsuits to protect the land can be brought on behalf of the land itself without any need to demonstrate how a human being is impacted while defending the land’s protection.

The river set to receive similar status is the Whanganui River, the third longest river in New Zealand.  To the Maori, it is “an invisible and living whole, comprising the river and all tributaries from the mountains to the sea – and that’s what we are giving effect to through this settlement,” according to Mr. Finalyson.

These new designations do not mean people cannot still enjoy Te Urewera like when it was a national park; it simply means special permits for activities like hunting must be issued through a new board that represents the river.  This board will consist of both government and Maori representatives.

The hope now is that this landmark decision will set precedent for other indigenous communities around the world whose worldviews and cultural paradigms are not being incorporated into the laws that govern their traditional and sacred sites.  Finlayon has already began discussions with Canada’s new attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, on how these concepts can be written into Canadian law.

Will Canada be next?