Indigenous Rights, Standing Rock & the Environmental Movement

The biggest and most critical movement of our time is the environmental movement. The future of humanity rests on our ability to come together and meet the human created crisis of ecological destruction and climate change. Indigenous peoples have been at the forefront of the fight for environmental justice against a colonial ideology that destroys people, animals and the environment in the name of power, territory and capital gain.

Highlighted on this page are photos from the environmental movement in New York City from 2011-2015, including the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, which was attended by 300,000 people, making it the largest climate change march in history, as well as the Flood Wall Street event that took place the following day, which directed its focus at Wall Street greed and capitalism as major contributors to our current crisis. This page will also include coverage of the 2016 Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline protests and encampment that took place on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota as well as interviews with other Indigenous rights activists.

The Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline protest was a beautiful moment of resurgence and resistance in the face of extreme colonial violence and theft. It drew together hundreds of tribal nations as well as others who came to support the struggle from all over the world. It was a demonstration of the power of community, strength, solidarity and our ever important connection with the natural world and each other.

The crisis began on September 14th, 2014 when Energy Transfer Partners presented their plans for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. They wanted to wind it through land within the boundary of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie as well as the Treaty of 1868. The council informed Energy Transfer Partners of their concern over the desecration of sacred lands and over the potential of the pipeline leaking and contaminating their water supply. Energy Transfer Partners went to extreme measures in order to override their opposition to the pipeline. In April 2016, a group of woman from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe began a camp called the Sacred Stone Camp. By August, thousands of people were camping with them in opposition to the pipeline. The main slogan for the camp was Mni Wiconi—water is life.

I traveled to Standing Rock on December 1, 2016 to photograph and document the movement and witnessed a community standing in resistance and hope against a brutal colonial power, while they weaved their ancient land- and community-based ideologies over the camp and into the hearts of all who engaged, leading the way to a more compassionate, equitable and environmentally affectionate world. I published the interviews in my Elements of Oppression blog that was created at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement in order to amplify the voices of people who found themselves affected by systems of oppression. Below is a selection of voices from the Indigenous rights & environmental movement.

“I’d like to see natural medicine, natural healing. I’d like to see a world where we can all be as one without racism and hate, without gender discrimination. Whether you are LGBTQ, whether you are two spirited, Native American, African American, we’re all just human.”

“People who really connect with Mother Nature, peace and harmony. All people laughing and helping each other. I want more respect for Mother Nature, more respect nation to nation. I want people to have more understanding of different countries. I want there to be more consensus to be more healthy, more happy…not just using Mother Earth to make war or fighting with different countries. I want more respect for each other, not too much materialism, and no more fighting for money. I want everybody to be equal. With our ancestors, the shaman woman was more powerful than the man. I want equal gender. I want all people to understand who is around them. I want them to understand that they are not alone. I don’t want people thinking they are alone and crying and crying and crying. There is life all around us. There is energy. I want us to stop being so destructive to ourselves and the planet. We need to respect the energy of Mother Earth. Animals have a lot of connection to us. I want animals to have safe places. I want them to be free.”

“People don’t acknowledge all of our leaders and activists and warriors that fought for all of the rights that we’re enjoying right now. That’s something that’s not being taught in the schools. We need to get back to educating with real history and talking about why things were done. Thank goodness for the internet…I think people are becoming more aware because they have more access to information…Everyone is welcome. These teachings are for everyone, not just Native Americans. I think it’s the duty of Native Americas to bring back our traditions and our ways and our respect for the earth and each other…What’s important is our survival and sustaining ourselves, sustaining this beautiful Mother Earth we have. Without that, everything else is gone, and we see it happening now.”

“I’d like it to be inclusive of everyone. I’m so sick and tired of the establishment. I would like the world to be a lot more inclusive and a lot more aware of Mother Earth. This is our sustainer. That’s why we call her Mother Earth because she sustains us. I want people just to respect her. Take what you need and no more. Don’t abuse it. That’s what I’d like to see for my children. And I’m fighting here because I have two grandchildren, and I don’t want them to ever have to fight for this. I’ve got four children and two grandchildren…I’m here to be a voice for my future generations as well. With everything that we do, we have to consider seven generations. If you’re going to dig a hole in the ground, what are the next seven generations going to do? If you’re going to put a pipeline under that Missouri River, the next seven generations of the 17 million people that depend on the Missouri drinking water are going to be affected by it? All they think about is the corporate dollar.”

“I’m here because our mother is hurting, and we need to pray. We need to stand up for her before she starts shaking us off like a bunch of flees. I’m here because when I get up in the morning, I give thanks. I say, “Nyaweh sugwajooknukdaoh gannonhkwa.” I’m thankful to the creator, and I express my love for everything in creation, and that’s what’s wrong with the world. We don’t give thanks, and that’s what we need to do to fix the world, to heal each other, to come together in unity. If we can do that, that’s a pretty good start.”

“I would like us to win.  I would like the pipeline to stop, and I would like people to understand that there is a better energy resource than digging up Mother Earth, than fracking and taking things out of Mother Earth. I wouldn’t so much have a problem with it if they would replace the things they take. With logging, if they would plant two trees for everything they cut down, that would be a big help. They just take and take and take. Or they think if they destroy the water that we’ll just buy bottled water. Well, where does the bottled water come from? They aren’t thinking back enough in the sequence to understand that the water that’s in that bottle is from tap. Where does that tap water come from? It comes from the ground. Where does the ground water come from? It comes from the rain and from the rivers. What happens if we have oil in our river? It goes into our bottled water. Hello! But they’re so worried about money and profits and trying to be better than someone else. I think it’s just because people haven’t learned how to take their own power.”

“I’m hoping this will create awareness about the abuse of powers in the Americas and how these days it seems like the government is just an oil corporation with an army. I hope it will bring awareness to the violation of the treaty rights with the Lakota and all Native people. I hope it brings awareness to the genocide inflicted upon Native American and Indigenous people. I hope it teaches people compassion. I just hope this is a stepping stone for a lot of different things. America needs to go through a lot of transformation, everything from environmental awareness to being lawful. I would like for the government to follow their own laws. It says in the constitution that if the government is corrupt it’s the right of the American people to stand up and take the government back. It would be nice to see that happen…I would like to see us in a world where there is no class system, no hierarchy, no nepotism. I’d like us to truly abolish the class system because it seems that that gives people privilege over others based upon the number of dollars they have in their bank instead of how good of a person they are. People who have a lot of money get away with a lot of things…I’d like to see a more environmentally conscious society…We’re killing our mother. We’re killing life. Our future sons and daughters, those little babies that you hold, and they hold you, and you are their world, what are we giving to them? They see the world in us. They deserve to breathe, taste, feel, touch, sense. If we don’t protect the world, then they’re not going to have that. “

“It would be nice if everyone just realized that we can live off of the land again as a community. We don’t need money or working jobs. We don’t need to be paid to live. I’d like to see people come together more.”

“I hope that everyone can take this back to where they are and realize that water is under attack everywhere, that the earth is under attack, that our hearts are being attacked too. We’re under a big spiritual warfare right now, so I hope people can take this to their home and figure out ways to create spaces for those who are feeling unsupported, and create a village environment for people to recognize their place in the village, and be honored for that.”

“I’d like there to be a giant tribe city that is self-sustaining in each zone. There’s a visionary who lives in Florida. I forget his name. Back in the 70’s, he was creating models of cities. You could take people from the rural areas into the center of learning and intelligence. They were run by high-speed rails, so you didn’t have to drive. They had a rack with a whole bunch of bicycles. You just walked over and grabbed a bike. You didn’t have to give your id or credit card. The bureaucracy in our world is laughable. It just bogs us down from actually getting stuff done. Sometimes we seem like robots. I’m sure it’s fear that’s driving people to do horrific acts. Mind control happens on all fronts. When you control things, there is always a backlash. As we get into a society where you have less of a family structure, and you don’t need to be bound to a group of people to live, there is going to be more and more of a backlash because people are no longer needed. We need to deal with this in a balanced way, with love, trying to negate all of that negative energy until the sea is once more calm and placid, where there are no more waves from the storm that has happened. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time. We might have to come back several times before that happens—that’s just my belief—but it will happen. We all have to work together. We all bring unique talents to the table. The Greek used to say that mental handicaps were not handicaps. They were gifts by the Gods. What are your secret powers? How can you help?”

“I’d like to see the pipeline being stopped and the world seeing the wrongs that they’ve been doing, the laws that they’ve been breaking. They’re saying that we’re unlawful, while they’re out there violating treaties that their grandparents promised us. They promised us one thing, but they don’t follow through. The whole point of the reservations was to give us the shittiest land on the whole United States. My tribe got stuck with the bad lands. We can’t grow nothing. It’s hard to grow there. That’s why they just gave it to us…I would like to see less of my people being hurt. We’ve been mistreated for so many years, and we’re getting tired of it. If I’m tired of it, I’m pretty sure everyone else is tired of it. We just want better for ourselves. We’re tired of getting the leftovers.”

“The whole world just needs to come together and solve the problems. Instead of hating each other and going to war with each other, we need to talk it out and figure out the solutions to our problems. I’d like to see world peace. I would like to see cultures actually interacting with each other, teaching each other about their culture, their traditions, their beliefs. Just like you see here at camp, everyone is here for one another. If you don’t have a place to sleep, they’ll give you a cot and a sleeping bag. They’ll build you your own little teepee. They feed you. You help out the community, and they give back to you. That’s what the whole world needs to do for each other and the Earth as well. We need to balance everything out and quit taking more than we need. We need to switch from oil to solar. The oil will eventually run out, and that’s just polluting the earth. Solar power comes from the sun. We have it whenever we need it. We just need to start being smarter about how we do things.”