Voices from Standing Rock: Interviews with water protectors on the front lines

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Gina Petry of Radical Women and Patrick Burns of the Freedom Socialist Party traveled to Oceti Sakowin camp in November 2016 to cook, carpenter, and interview water protectors. On December 2, veterans began arriving to protect the camp, their numbers swelling to over 2,000. Pressure grew and two days later the Obama administration temporarily halted drilling.

Standing Rock Sioux tribal Chief Dave Archambault II then told the water protectors to go home to safety during the winter because the tribe would continue to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline through legal channels. Not everyone agreed to leave.

As of Jan. 15, 2017, 1,200 remain, including Jasilyn Charger, from the Cheyenne River Reservation and founder of the International Indigenous Youth Council at Standing Rock. Protesters, mostly youth, vow to stay until the Black Snake (pipeline) is stopped for good.

Next up, mobilize for the Jan. 20 inaugural protest to stop Trump from approving the pipeline, and build the protest to halt it for good.

Following are excerpts from Burns’ and Petry’s interviews

Alex Good Cane Milk, Yankton Sioux Ihanktonwan, International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC): “An action at the 1851 Treaty Camp was pretty intense. They were targeting people who looked like leaders, because we were helping keep people together and organized. A guy came out of nowhere and tried to grab me, but others (water protectors) pulled me back. … We used our cars to create a barricade along a fence line, I walked down to a pickup truck and the police took all my prayer stuff. … We want people to know the Youth Council is here for all of you, we are your voice. We are here for elders, youth, children, the future, to expose the truth!”

Ta’Sina Sapa Win, Cheyenne River Sioux, Youth Council: “The core (of the IIYC) are the youth who started this all and who partake in all the actions. We started with 12 and there are now almost 50 of us. The 7th generation is here and we will take on issues that have been ignored for centuries.

“We have helicopters flying overhead, this is definitely a war now — a one-sided war — we’ve been bit by dogs, had shots fired, arms broken … but we take the fear and transform it into courage. We’re still here and we’re not leaving! I have a five year old son and I gave up everything to fight for my son’s future. Wherever there is a frontline action I will be there!”

Sam Carlos, Coast Salish territory: “The issue of fossil fuels is important, but what struck me is the treatment of the indigenous lands and the sovereignty of the indigenous nations here … to build a pipeline so close to the reservation, the lands that had been promised, a tiny fraction of the original territory. … colonialism’s been trying to silence those voices for hundreds of years now. … We stand up together for quality of human life.”

Wicanhpi Iyotan Win, Upper Sioux Reservation, Minnesota: “As an indigenous midwife I have a vested interest in healthy clean water and food. It becomes not just about the pipeline. … We need to be against all pipelines … against all contamination and theft of indigenous resources. When we see the effects … on our children, it has moved indigenous women to extraordinary feats in order to protect those children. The role of women and elders is literally the last line of defense that we have.

“…What we’re seeing here at Standing Rock … is a very genuine attempt to reclaim positions of social power by women and youth.

“There are a lot of issues culminating at Standing Rock … treaty rights, environmentalism, violence against native women … I think it’s a good thing to bring all of these issues together. … Straight out first we need to kill the black snake (pipeline). Standing Rock may be the first of its kind, but I hope … we can have seven thousand strong show up every single time they attempt to do something like this on indigenous territory. What will stop the pipeline is when it’s no longer financially feasible. … Regardless of tactics, regardless of legality … from the very beginning it has always been about resources and money.”

Patrick Burns of Freedom Socialist Party (standing left) helping young Water Warriors build their winter shelters at the camp.

Liam Cain, Laborers Union Local1271: “I am here with Labor for Standing Rock because I was galvanized by the shameful hypocrisy of the Building Trades Council’s call to bring in the National Guard to protect the pipeline. … I’m a former pipeline worker and I want to reach out to them and tell them how they are being exploited by capitalism and the over reliance on fossil fuels … what’s needed is a just transition to more sustainable energy with jobs and fair wages.

“Many union rank and file members are in (environmental) groups and I want to tie these threads together in a united front, build a bridge between labor and environment … and to tie the strength and resilience of indigenous people into the labor movement.”

Wakinya Tunwanpi Iyoyanpa Win, Oglala Lakota Sioux: “The tribe asked me to come and coordinate the Two-Spirit Nation (LGBTQ) camp and create communication within it and integration with the larger camp. I want to build beyond culture and ceremony. … We are focused on building leaders and connections for the future.”

Gil Killspretty Enemy III, Standing Rock tribe: “I am a father and have a second child on the way. I’m scared about the world I’ll leave for my children. … I don’t understand why they call us terrorists when we’re protecting the water for everyone!”

Gina and Patrick witnessed the brutal police attack on protectors at the highway 1806 bridge. They also participated in a women-led march and ceremony where hundreds wearing red clothing gathered by the blockaded bridge, drummed and chanted “Free Red Fawn!” Red Fawn Fallis was working as a medic when she was framed on phony weapon charges and jailed. Federal charges are still pending.

Gina Petry: “On the last night at Standing Rock, I interviewed tribal member Leonard as we watched the police water cannons spray water protectors at the bridge. He said, and I agree, that we have to change this system that is controlled by greed and racism. That the government and cops are protecting corporations and treating the water protectors like criminals just as they have treated Native people for hundreds of years.”

After their return, Patrick and Gina reported at a crowded Seattle forum that Standing Rock is an example of the resilience and bravery of those fighting the pipeline while also building worldwide networks for stronger stands in the future. They called for stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline and all other pipelines, dropping all charges against the hundreds arrested, pardoning Red Fawn, and building united fronts for future battles certain to come.

View full interviews and the forum here.

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.

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