They came from as far as Florida, Alaska, and Hawaii, “from the four directions,” says Geronimo Warren, holy man elder from the Apache Nation.
They were called to action by a Facebook post from organizer Leslie Bradley, a Lakota Sioux and great-great granddaughter of Chief American Horse. Bradley, an Oregonian, wanted Oregon to show solidarity with native people’s resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline. She had hoped 40 people might attend her rally on November 12 at the Capitol Mall.
Ten times that number showed up. Young and old, Osage and Burns Paiute, Siletz and Apache. As Bradley posted, “we may not be able to stand next to them [in North Dakota] but we can stand with them.”
Bradley’s speakers discussed the months of peaceful protest over one section of the 1,200-mile Energy Transfer Partners’ pipeline. The section runs under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Sioux and allies say the pipeline threatens sacred sites and could contaminate drinking water.
Since spring, protesters have sent reports of wrongful actions by pipeline builders and law enforcement personnel. A historical Sioux burial ground was disturbed by pipeline bulldozers on September 4, for example. Elsewhere, a sacred medicine wheel, which Geronimo says, “had been there hundreds of winters, from ancient times,” was destroyed. “Artifacts dating from way back when, have been urinated on by the outside world,” he adds, and had to be burned.
“They didn’t ask the people, could they,” Geronimo says of those who are building the pipeline. “It’s like the old days. Whites take anything for power. Money is their creed.”
Since April, participants have been bitten by attack dogs, beaten, fired upon with tear gas and bean bags, strip searched and housed in dog kennels by armed soldiers and police in riot gear.
On November 20, police used water cannons for six hours on peaceful protesters in sub-freezing weather. Hundreds were injured by rubber bullets and other uses of force, and an elder went into cardiac arrest. Amnesty International tweeted: “Peaceful protest is a human right and police should show restraint.”
One participant at the Salem rally was Chanti Manon, 16 years old and of Osage and Mazuhua origin. She was there because, “this was something that I could make a difference in. Especially considering the frankly horrific outcome of the election.”
Several at the rally had learned that President-Elect Donald Trump owns stocks that directly fund the Dakota Access pipeline. “I’m Native,” Manon said, “so the struggles happening at Standing Rock are very close to my heart.” She joined many who noted the stark contrast between law enforcement’s response to armed white occupiers at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year, and its treatment of peaceful water protesters.
“The men who occupied Malheur had no right to that land, had previously vandalized the land and had no legitimate cause,” Manon says. “The water protectors have sacred sites being desecrated…that are supposed to be protected as their treaty land.”
On October 27, the same day seven Malheur defendants celebrated their acquittal, police fired bean bag rounds at North Dakota protesters and arrested nearly 150.
Those who attended Bradley’s November 12 rally were familiar with the many wrongs suffered by native peoples. Living in the land of their ancestors, colonized by outsiders, “Native Americans have the highest rates of suicide and alcoholism,” Manon says, “and 100% of U.S. uranium production happens on or near native lands.”
Pamela Vasquez arrived holding a Cree Indian prophecy sign. “The indigenous people of this continent have a long history of being victimized by genocide, exploitation, slavery, environmental injustice and theft of their land and resources,” she says. She came to the rally because the Standing Rock Sioux, “and the hundreds of other tribes in solidarity with [them] are sovereign nations. They have not given approval to the building of this pipeline, and it has caused destruction to culturally and religiously significant sites.”
The Sioux, Vasquez says, need infrastructure. “They need jobs, schools, medical facilities, housing [and] energy systems, just like other communities. Their rights should be respected, and the militarized force that is brutalizing them should be stopped. Water protectors shouldn’t be strip searched, tortured and detained on their own land while peacefully praying and assembling. They have a right to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent.”
A theme for Bradley, and all the speakers who followed her, was the essential nature of water. “There is one thing we care about, one thing we can agree on; water is life, water is life,” she told the crowd. “This chant has been chanted all across the world, and now it is time to join in: water is life.”
Jolynne Clawson attended with her family, Northwest Coastal Native people “who recognize the importance of water. I was once told that the water moves by way of rivers, streams, and creeks,” she says. “It is then evaporated up to the heavens. It is there that our ancestors are dancing and watching over us. So all the blood, sweat, and tears are our gift to the sacred Rain that falls. It is this sacred Water that all that dwells between here and the heavens needs to sustain life.”
Citing the seemingly irreversible force of climate change and the apparent decision of the government to disregard the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux, Vasquez notes, “Our world is dying. We need to kill the Black Snake before it kills Mother Earth and all life on earth. Water is life (“Mni Wiconi”). Mother Earth is life. Breath (clean air) is life.”
For Bradley, who has never organized an event before, and who drew a crowd of 400 and a program of a dozen speakers in only one week, it is clear that many feel solidarity with the Dakota protesters.
“When you hear the call of the ancestors,” she says, “you have to answer the call and trust that everything will work out. Let’s keep the Black Snake from making Donald lots of money. Let’s keep the carbon in the ground, keep it out of the air and the water, and burning up our world.”
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