Meet the Native Women at the Heart of the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests
The battle to block the Dakota Access Pipeline was launched by Native Women.
by Jen Deerinwater
Sixty percent of the adult human body is made of water. Seventy-five to 80 percent of an infant’s body is made of water. Without clean water, no living being — plants, animals, or humans — can survive. Despite this, the U.S. government allows resource extraction companies, such as Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. to construct pipelines like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), with little consequence of what it means to the water sources we all depend on.
It was a woman of the Standing Rock Sioux, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, who began the movement to protect the water from the DAPL. It has been Native Women on the front lines at Standing Rock and around the U.S. who have organized the camps, prayer vigils, the lobbying of American government and attendance at the court hearings in Washington, D.C. From the beginning, Native Women have been the at the center of the movement to protect the water by bringing an end to the black snake.
The Black Snake & The Sacred Stone Camp
The DAPL is being constructed by the Dakota Access L.C., a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners L.P. According to Energy Transfers, Dakota Access was created to “safely and reliably transport American crude oil from the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota to markets and refineries located in the Midwest, East Coast and Gulf Coast regions of the United States.” This is supposedly to help further the U.S. energy independence from other nations, but the oil will most likely be transported overseas.
As the DAPL route currently stands, it is 1,168 miles long and traverses through 50 counties and 4 states, crossing 209 rivers, creeks and tributaries. Two of the rivers it crosses beneath are major rivers — twice under the Missouri and once under the Mississippi. The DAPL will most dramatically impact the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the Yankton Nation, but will impact the water supply of an estimated total of 10 million people. Given that much of the land it crosses is farmland, it could contaminate food sources that are shipped across the U.S.
The pipeline was originally proposed to cross the Missouri river north of Bismarck, but was rerouted because it was determined to be a too heavily populated area. Through brutal, systematic, environmental racism, and a breaking of the Fort Laramie Treaty, it now crosses the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s Ogallala aquifer — one of the largest aquifers in the world.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowed this monstrosity to occur under the Nationwide Permit 12, which allows energy companies who meet certain criteria to build and repair infrastructure without studies performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), public hearings or tribal consultation. Eminent domain also played a large role in the building of the DAPL. This allows the American government to steal land for what they deem to be the public good. This is typically used for development by large corporations and merely lines the pockets of the obscenely wealthy at the expense of the public. The pipeline route travels over a great deal of privately owned land that was seized through the use of eminent domain.
Enter Ladonna Brave Bull Allard. She began the Sacred Stone Camp in Cannonball, North Dakota on April 1, 2016 to protect the water that literally brings life, language and culture to her and the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Ladonna’s great-great-grandmother, Nape Hote Win, was one of the lone survivors of one of the largest massacres of Native People to date: the Whitestone Hill massacre. It’s estimated that 300 to 400 people were murdered by the U.S. government. This occurred only 50 miles east of where the DAPL is being built.
The Cannonball River and Missouri River meet where the Sacred Stone Camp is located. Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river in 1950, there was a whirlpool that created large formations. Along the DAPL course there are 380 archaeological sites, 26 of which are where the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers meet. Allard said, “The U.S. government is wiping out our most important cultural and spiritual areas. And as it erases our footprint from the world, it erases us as a people. … If we allow an oil company to dig through and destroy our histories, our ancestors, our hearts and souls as a people, is that not genocide?”
Violent Resource Extraction & Women Warriors
On September 2, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed for an emergency motion for a restraining order to stop construction east and west of Highway 1806. Dave Meyer, the owner of lands on both sides of Highway 1806 and west of Lake Oahe on which part of the DAPL is would be situated, contacted the tribe regarding potential cultural sites. Tim Mentz, the tribe’s historic preservation officer, surveyed the land and found several burial sites. In Mentz’s supplemental declaration for the the tribe’s motion, he stated that this area was “approximately 1.75 miles away from the proposed Lake Oahe crossing. No construction equipment was in sight.”
Saturday, September 3, the Dakota Access LLC sent bulldozers to the sacred burial sites and began to dig up the graves. That day was the 153rd anniversary of the Whitestone Hill massacre.
According to Karan Swallow, who was present at the attacks, when the women saw the bulldozers “they ran, linked arms, chanted and prayed.” The women were soon confronted with attack dogs and pepper spray. The men were on the other side of the fence that delineates the property line. When they saw the women under attack, they tore down the fence to stand with the women. This is when the Dakota Access LLC’s hired thugs let the dogs loose and began to mace the Water Protectors. The protectors pushed back. “Our warriors, women and men, pushed them from the ground.” The mercenaries and their dogs left after this.
Trisha Etringer, of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, spoke with me directly. She is two months pregnant and was pepper-sprayed by one of the security goons. Etringer explained that she and others from many nations were at the front lines (the fence line that delineates Dave Meyer’s land where the burial sites are), praying and offering tobacco when they received word that the graves were being bulldozed.
“I ended up being on the front lines with other relatives and we were with other women and we linked arms together and began marching towards these workers and were saying ‘water is life.’ This must have struck a nerve with them. They opened up pepper spray and unleashed their dogs on us,” she said.
Once her eyes were cleared of the mace, Etringer returned to the front lines and confronted the mercenary who attacked her. “Do you know you just pepper-sprayed a pregnant women?” The man gave no response. This can all be seen in the Democracy Now! video reported on by Amy Goodman — who had an arrest warrant issued because she was on the scene to report the news.
When I asked Etringer why she would put herself on the front lines, her response perfectly summed up why Native Women have taken up the role of Water Protectors against the DAPL:
“Once you learn about the centuries of oppression, you learn about the boarding schools and you are directly affected by that because your grandpa or grandma went through [it and it] hurts you. I remember feeling hurt and the pain, I literally cried as I seen the Earth just rolling like carelessly and I couldn’t not just stand there and watch that. … I was scared when I was on the front lines and I felt like my grandfather was with me and I prayed.”
Now that Etringer is back home in Waterloo, Iowa, she’s been active with local Water Protectors and is currently working with the University of Northern Iowa on a YouTube video to challenge other universities to take a stand and show solidarity with Standing Rock. “I feel like I have to come back and represent for my family here and take on that torch for Waterloo, and be a voice here. ”
Women Warriors off the Front Lines
Shee Whitewater, of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, went to Standing Rock to protect the water for future generations. She lives 10 to 15 miles away from the Missouri River and is a grandma to six kids. For Whitewater though, she felt the call to protect for other reasons. She told me, “The real reason I got involved was because very little of our men from our tribe was concerned about the affects of what this pipeline could do to us in the long run. And being a single parent, mother and grandmother I had no men I could go to, to ask them to stand up for our future generations so I took it upon myself to be a water warrior… I guess I’m one to say, ‘if they won’t/can’t do it, I’ll do it myself.’”
Now that Whitewater has returned home to Nebraska, she’s involved in local organizing and plans to return to Standing Rock once she has the means.
In Washington D.C., Sophia Marjanovic, Ph.D, of the Ft. Peck Oglala Lakota and Sante Ysabell Ipai, has been an active Water Protector in the D.C. area. When asked what drew her to this cause, she said something I’ve heard from many of the Native Women I’ve spoken with: it’s personal. “My tribe had an oil boom in the 1980s. Ever since I can remember, water has come out of the faucet red, yellow, orange and smelling of petroleum and having oil droplets on top of it. The number-one killer of our women is cancer. We have the most rapidly developing autoimmune diseases in the world and there’s been no accountability for it. … I’m concerned for my relatives in Standing Rock.”
Marjanovic is taking advantage of being in the America’s capital. She formed the No Dakota Access Pipeline DMV Facebook group in August. They’ve held vigils in front of the courthouse where the Standing Rock hearings have taken place. Every Sunday, she also heads to the White House to educate tourists about the DAPL. While on one of her last education missions, Marjanovic was approached by the Secret Service. They wanted to know why she was there and required that she point out anyone who was with her, because they were “concerned about protecting her from counter-protesters.” This hasn’t dissuaded her from organizing in D.C. or returning to the White House.
“It’s not appropriate to be making Native American reservations a dumping ground for pollution. … It’s inappropriate that we’re treated like trash and disposable in every single possible way, not just only our lands being something that are dumped on, but our bodies are being treated as something that you just dump on.”
September 13 is the No DAPL National Call to Action. Find an event near you to show your solidarity with Standing Rock and the Yakton Nation.
Jen Deerinwater is an out and proud Bisexual, Hard Femme, Disabled, and is mixed race Tsalagi-a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. After several years spent in the trenches of American politics, you can now find her stirring the pot of radical discourse online. Follow her musings and soapbox rants at @JenDeerinwater and jendeerinwater on Instagram.
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