Blog and photos Osprey Orielle Lake
Permission to share the information here via Ursula Young Bear, Oglala Lakota
Women can and are making a significant difference in changing our current destructive socio-ecologic trajectory—and thus we need to accelerate the power, leadership and visibility of women at every level of decision-making. At this critical juncture, it is paramount to recognize that there will be no effective action on a multitude of dire issues until women’s struggles, solutions and leadership are at the forefront. From the grassroots to all levels of political decision-making, women must continue to gain voice and power. In particular, we must acknowledge the leadership of Indigenous women and the struggles of women on the frontline of our dangerous extractive economy and dominator worldviews.
Over the past four months,there have been several WECAN Delegations to Standing Rock to bring supplies, support and to record interviews with incredible Indigenous women at the vanguard of the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance effort. The women’s voices and actions shine boldly with dignity, wisdom, love and strength in the midst of horrifying and unlawful violence by state and corporate actors – including attacks by dogs, mace, sound cannons, water cannons and strip searching those arrested during peaceful actions to protect water from a pipeline, which would transport 470,000 barrels of oil every day.
The women are rising to say colonization must end, sacrifice zones and environmental racism must end, violence against women’s bodies by extractive industries must end, the desecration of Indigenous sacred sites and violations against Indigenous land rights must end, the destruction of the earth and water must end. Can you hear their powerful voices calling out ‘“Mni Wiconi” Water is Life’?
During my most recent time at Standing Rock in the days before and through Thanksgiving weekend (late November 2016), women’s direct actions were held on the Backwater Bridge just north of the Oceti Sakowin camp. Emotions ran high as these actions occurred just one week after one of the most violent and repressive attacks on Water Protectors in this same barricaded location when they were trying to remove roadblocks.
The Indigenous women who lead the first action asked all the women to wear white in honor of White Buffalo Calf Woman. The white was worn to remind us that all things are born from women and that women’s voices and leadership are to be highly respected. Ursula Young Bear, Oglala Lakota from South Dakota, stated that the “White Skirt” action was held to bring everyone’s attention to women as life-givers and that, “Women have power, we have a voice!”.
The second action later in the afternoon was held in silent prayer. The women walked together in formation, encircling the sacred fires and then went to the frontline like a streaming river over the land. We prayed peacefully on the bridge facing the militarized police and barbed wire fencing. After some time and careful words with law enforcement, several of the elders were able to walk undisturbed directly down to the water to pray. The men stood behind the women to guard and hold space.
Lyla June Johnston, one of the organizers and Dine’ poet, singer and songwriter, spoke afterward saying the silent prayers were bringing much needed healing – that in the powerful silence, fears were calmed in everyone and that in the silence we can welcome the presence of the Ancestors who are with us in this prayer. This is part of the solution.
Then came the rain, then the snow. It is beyond words to describe the strength, resilience and courage of Water Protectors at Standing Rock navigating so many challenges to be expected in a multi-faceted, historic resistance effort such as this – including now the weather. The Indigenous leadership is guiding the way and it is deeply humbling and magnificent to experience. There is a great deal to traverse through historic traumas, environmental racism, patriarchy, colonization, oppression and capitalism that bare down on Indigenous and frontline communities first and worst.
It also must be recognized that 80% of the bio-diversity left on Earth is in Indigenous lands and territories. Indigenous peoples worldwide are putting their bodies on the line every day to protect their lands, forests and waterways.
First and foremost we all need to be supporting our Indigenous allies because they should not be facing brutal violence as they fight to stop the destruction of their homelands and life-ways, however, we also need to understand that everyone’s survival is interwoven and we cannot live without water, forests and air. It is our Indigenous sisters and brothers who have been fighting for us all. It is paramount that we stand in solidarity together. Everyone must respect Indigenous rights and sovereignty, and within this context, the Dakota Access pipeline must be stopped.
And now, as the political landscape changes and the deep, biting cold of winter sets in, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network reasserts our ongoing commitment to the Water Protectors and all the challenges yet to come. Please see our recent newsletter with updates and ways to directly support the resistance effort. And, please read this important coalition statement with current directives from Indigenous allies on the ground.
Thank you to so many including Sacred Stone Camp, Indigenous Peoples Project, Indigenous Environmental Network, International Indigenous Youth Council, Honor the Earth, Ruckus Society and Climate Justice Alliance.