Legacy of Standing Rock

What Standing Rock Gave the World

Americans saw the Indigenous struggle—the violence, stolen resources, colluding corporations and governments—that goes hand in hand with protecting the Earth.
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At the height of the movement at Standing Rock, Indigenous teens half a world away in Norway were tattooing their young bodies with an image of a black snake. Derived from Lakota prophecy, the creature had come to represent the controversial Dakota Access pipeline for the thousands of water protectors determined to try to stop it.

It was a show of international solidarity between the Indigenous Sami and the Lakota. “They got tattoos because of the Norwegian money invested in the pipeline,” said Jan Rune Måsø, editor of the Sami news division of Norway’s largest media company, NRK.

Rune Måsø said the story about the tattoos was just one of about a hundred that his team of journalists covered over the course of the months-long pipeline battle in North Dakota. One of them, “The War on the Black Snake,” was awarded top honors at a journalism conference held in Trømsø in November. That story revealed large investments Norwegian banks had made to advance the $3.8 billion energy project, spurring a divestment campaign by the Sami Parliament.

The backstory can be told simply. As early as April 2016, Indigenous activists protested the pipeline’s threat to the Standing Rock Sioux’s primary water supply, the Missouri River. While battles were fought in federal courts, representatives of hundreds of Indigenous groups from around the world—the Maori, the Sami, and the Sarayaku, to name a few—arrived. Temporary communities of thousands were created on the reservation borderlands in nonviolent resistance against the crude oil project. Police arrested more than 800 people, and many water protectors faced attack dogs, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and, once, a water cannon on a freezing night in November. Last February, armored vehicles and police in riot gear cleared the last of the encampments. Recently, investigative journalism by The Intercept has documented that the paramilitary security firm TigerSwan was hired by DAPL parent Energy Transfer Partners to guide North Dakota law enforcement in treating the movement as a “national security threat.”

Oil now flows through the pipeline under the Missouri.

But this Indigenous-led disruption, the awakening resolve that was cultivated at Standing Rock, did not dissolve after February. Rather, it spread in so many different directions that we may never fully realize its reach. The spirit of resistance can easily be found in the half-dozen or so other pipeline battles across the United States. Beyond that, the movement amplified the greater struggle worldwide: treaty rights, sacred sites, and the overall stand to protect Indigenous land and life.

To be sure, post-colonization has always demanded acknowledgment of Indigenous autonomy. It’s what spurred months of international advocacy when Haudenosaunee Chief Deskaheh attempted to speak before the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1923. He wanted to remind the world that European colonizers had honored Iroquois Confederacy nationhood upon entering treaty agreements under the two row wampum.

The stand at Standing Rock, then, was not anything new—just more modern.

Google the words “the next Standing Rock” and you get a smattering of circumstances, mostly posed in the form of a question: Bears Ears, Line 3, Yucca Mountain. “The Next Standing Rock?” the headlines ask.

The story of White Clay, Nebraska, is indicative. When the last tipis came down at Standing Rock, Clarence Matthew III, a middle-aged Sicangu Lakota man better known by his camp nickname, Curly, spared little time migrating to the South Dakota–Nebraska border. There, another fight for justice was mounting, for families living on the neighboring Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This one focused on a decades-long dispute over beer sales targeted at Native American customers mostly prone to alcohol addiction.

Demands turned to broader issues: investigation of dozens of unsolved crimes in White Clay against Native Americans. “Once we got down there, they started telling us about the problems they’ve had, more than just alcohol, the murders, the rapes, and everything that was on the bad side of that alcohol problem,” Matthew said. “It just broke my heart to hear all that.”

Matthew had been caretaker of one of the main communities at Standing Rock, and he settled right in at Camp Justice at the edge of Pine Ridge. He was there with his “water protector family,” others who have adopted camping as an active form of protest.

We’re starting to see other Indigenous communities rise up and say, Let us all speak now.

For all the momentum that the resistance at Standing Rock brought, the Indigenous rights movement in the 21st century faces increasing challenges. Tribal nations tread cautiously under the administration of Donald Trump. Internationally, the militarized protection of extractive energy projects and theft of land persist, despite glaring media attention paid to the rising number of Indigenous peoples killed or jailed for their activism in the face of it.

In a final push for re-election last fall, Standing Rock’s Dave Archambault II gave what would be his last interview as chairman to tribal radio station KLND. Archambault used the airtime to speak matter-of-factly about how the movement had shifted the tribe’s potent public image away from the reservation. “It used to be cool to be Indian; now it’s cool to be from Standing Rock.

“This movement was significant, not just for Standing Rock, but for all of Indian Country and around the world. We made some noise and now we’re starting to see other Indigenous communities rise up and say, Let us all speak now, and it’s pretty powerful and moving,” he said.

Less than a week later and on the same day that the state of North Dakota accepted a $15 million gift from Energy Transfer Partners, Archambault was unseated by former council member Mike Faith, who has said publicly that he believes the overall movement hurt Standing Rock’s economy and neglected daily life for tribal members.

The difference of opinion between the two leaders is a conflict that often lies at the heart of tribal community: protecting the Earth or protecting the Indigenous peoples.

On the eve of Thanksgiving 2017, when the Keystone pipeline ruptured and spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in neighboring South Dakota, the newly elected Faith remained notably silent while water protectors responded with outrage, most loudly, closest to home.

Sustaining this awakening is the next great task.

“Ironically, this week most Americans will be sitting down and giving thanks when last year at this time my people were being shot, gassed, and beaten for trying to keep this very thing from happening,” Chairman Harold Frazier from the neighboring Cheyenne River Sioux tribe said in a statement. Like Archambault and other tribal leaders, Frazier was arrested for participating in the Standing Rock occupation.

Leadership in the Indigenous world is not only a difficult balance, but also dangerous.

In Honduras, activist Bertha Zuniga Cáceres is fighting for Indigenous rights in one of the most militarized regions in the world. She is the daughter of Berta Cáceres, the Indigenous Lenca woman who was assassinated after leading a successful campaign to halt construction of the Agua Zarca Dam. Now she is seeking justice for her mother’s death.

The 26-year-old Cáceres is also campaigning to suspend all U.S. military aid to Honduras. In July, she survived an attack by a group of assailants wielding machetes. Just weeks earlier she had been named the new leader of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, the nonprofit organization formerly led by her mother.

“Many organizations, many NGOs, many Indigenous groups are struggling in how to sustain the work that they are doing in the face of these attacks,” said Katharina Rall, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Last year, after the military-style assaults on the camps at Standing Rock, Human Rights Watch expanded its agenda to include a program focused on the environment as a human right. “The fact that we now have an environment and human rights program at our organization is a reflection of this reality that a lot of people face,” Rall said.

Meantime, the organization Global Witness reports that it has never been deadlier to take a stand against companies that steal land and destroy the Earth. In 2016, the watchdog group found that nearly four activists a week are murdered fighting against mining, logging, and other extractive resource development.

Traditional knowledge has kept us in harmony with Mother Earth.

As disturbing as this reality is, it is unsurprising then to recall the military-style violence at Standing Rock: the rows of riot police pointing their guns at unarmed activists standing in the river; tanks shooting water in freezing temperatures at a crowd of people gathered on a bridge. In this one regard, Standing Rock was not unique in the world. It had become crucially important. Americans saw the global struggle faced by the estimated 370 million Indigenous people—the violence, stolen resources, colluding corporations and governments that go hand in hand with protecting the Earth.

Sustaining this awakening is the next great task.

Climate change poses one of the most serious reminders of why the sacred fires ignited at Standing Rock must continue to burn: Indigenous peoples and their knowledge and value systems matter.

At November’s COP23 climate conference in Bonn, Germany, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim was dressed in traditional Mbororo regalia when she stood in a conference hall demanding that Indigenous knowledge systems be properly acknowledged in Paris Agreement negotiations. The girl who once tended cattle in the region of Chad bordering northeastern Nigeria has now become a bridge for her people and government officials making decisions impacting the fragile ecosystem of Lake Chad, the lifeline for the Mbororo.

“Traditional knowledge has kept us from century to century to be in harmony with Mother Earth,” Ibrahim said. “These knowledges will make for all the difference, but we cannot wait years and years, because climate is changing, and it’s impacting the Earth.”

Other members of the Indigenous Caucus at Bonn say inserting traditional knowledge into the climate talks doesn’t go far enough. Jannie Staffansson, a representative of the Saami Council, wants what Chief Deskaheh had petitioned to the League of Nations nearly a century earlier: sovereign recognition for Indigenous Peoples on an international scale. It would allow equity at the negotiating table—a level playing field to fairly deal with the consequences of a warming planet in the face of land grabs and natural resource extraction.

“Why is it always that Indigenous peoples need to pay for other people’s wealth?” said Staffansson. She paused to check the Snapchat account she had been using to engage with a young Sami audience while at COP, a demographic similar to the teens who got tattoos of the black snake.

“I had friends that went to Standing Rock,” said the 27-year-old. “I was envious of their trip to support self-determination. Self-determination and a just transition is what we have to take into account.”

“We need climate justice in everything we do.”

Jenni Monet wrote this article for The Decolonize Issue, the Spring 2018 issue of YES! Magazine. Jenni is an award-winning journalist and tribal member of the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico. She’s also executive producer and host of the podcast Still Here.

from:    http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/decolonize/what-standing-rock-gave-the-world-20180316

To Honor the Earth

The White Horse and the Humvees—Standing Rock Is Offering Us a Choice

Right here, between the barricades on a North Dakota highway, is a pivotal confrontation between two world views, two futures.
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Two lines, facing each other on a North Dakota highway. On one side, concrete barriers protect a row of armored vehicles and helmeted police with assault rifles. On the other, a young man rides a white horse whose legs are stained with blood. A woman, wearing a scarf to protect her lungs from tear gas, wafts sage smoke over a boy to give him strength, wash away hate, and remind him of his sacred purpose.

Here, on a highway stretching across trampled prairie grass, the fundamental contest of our time is playing out.

The fundamental contest of our time is playing out.

It’s a confrontation not only between two groups of people, but between two world views. The space between the lines vibrates with tensions of race, historical trauma, broken treaties, money and politics, love and fear. But the underlying issue that charges the air, mixing with the smells of tear gas and sage, is the global contest between two deeply different ideas about the true meaning of land.

On one side is the unquestioned assumption that land is merely a warehouse of lifeless materials that have been given to (some of) us by God or conquest, to use without constraint. On this view, human happiness is best served by whatever economy most efficiently transforms water, soils, minerals, wild lives, and human yearning into corporate wealth. And so it is possible to love the bottom line on a quarterly report so fiercely that you will call out the National Guard to protect it.

On the other side of the concrete barriers is a story that is so ancient it seems revolutionary.  On this view, the land is a great and nourishing gift to all beings. The fertile soil, the fresh water, the clear air, the creatures, swift or rooted: they require gratitude and veneration. These gifts are not commodities, like scrap iron and sneakers. The land is sacred, a living breathing entity, for whom we must care, as she cares for us. And so it is possible to love land and water so fiercely you will live in a tent in a North Dakota winter to protect them.

It may turn out that the cracks in that stretch of two-lane highway mark a giant crack in time, when one set of assumptions about reality snaps and is replaced by another. This, like all times of paradigm shift, is an unsettled time, a time of shouting and police truncheons, as privileged people defend the assumptions that have served them royally.

What are they so afraid of out there in North Dakota, that they arrest journalists, set dogs on women and children, send prayerful protectors to jail and align para-military force against indigenous people on their own homelands?

Everyone can join the people of Standing Rock and say No.

Maybe they are afraid of the truth-telling power of the people at Standing Rock and their busloads of allies, who are making clear that we live in an era of profound error that we mistakenly believe is the only way we can live, an era of insanity that we believe is the only way we can think. But once people accept with heart and mind that land is our teacher, our mother, our garden, our pharmacy, our church, our cradle and our grave, it becomes unthinkable to destroy it. This vision threatens the industrial worldview more than anything else.

Indigenous people are saying, there are honorable and enduring lifeways that beckon to people who are weary of destruction.

Everyone can join the people of Standing Rock and say No. No more wrecked land. No more oil spills. No more poisoned wells. We don’t have to surrender the well-being of communities to the profit of a few. We can say Yes. Yes, we are all in this together. Yes, we can all stand on moral ground. Yes, we can all be protectors of the water and protectors of the silently watching future. The blockade on the highway is an invitation to remember and reclaim who we might be — just and joyous humans on a bountiful Earth. Right here, between the barricades, we are offered a choice.

On the highway, a warrior steps around the concrete barrier, offering a sage bundle that trails white smoke. Approaching a figure in riot gear, he extends the blessing to the officer, letting the smoke wash over him. To give him strength. To wash away hate. To remind him of his purpose.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, citizen Potawatomi Nation, is director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Her most recent book is Braiding Sweetgrass. 
Kathleen Dean Moore, the author of Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change and co-editor of Moral Ground, is Oregon State University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Emerita.
from:    http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/the-humvees-and-the-white-horse2014two-futures-20161105

The Buffalo Nation Responds!

The Tatanka Oyate were called upon and gave us courage. Pilamiya Maske for your vision. Stay strong Water Protectors! Davidica Littlespottedhorse

The great bison or buffalo of North America is a very powerful symbol to American Indians. Though best suited to cooler climates, bison roamed virtually in entire continent.

The smaller woodlands bison and its bigger cousin, the plains bison were revered and honored in ceremony and every day life. To the plains Indian, our Bison Brother meant sacred life and the abundance of the Creator’s blessing on Mother Earth.

The bison is powerful medicine that is a symbol of sacrifice and service to the community. The bison people agreed to give their lives so the American Indian could have food, shelter and clothing.

The bison is also a symbol of gratitude and honor as it is happy to accept its meager existence as it stands proud against the winds of adversity.

The bison represents abundance of the Creator’s bounty and respect for all creation knowing that all things are sacred.

The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe criticized law enforcement’s “militarized” response to the camp and called for demonstrations to remain peaceful, but stressed that activists would not give up their cause.

“Militarized law enforcement agencies moved in on water protectors with tanks and riot gear today. We continue to pray for peace,” Dave Archambault II said in a statement Thursday evening.

“We won’t step down from this fight,” he added. “As peoples of this earth, we all need water. This is about our water, our rights, and our dignity as human beings.”
Video Source Davidica Littlespottedhorse

VIDEO
(DO not know whether the video came through, but you can get it at the link below)
from:    http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2016/10/givers-of-courage-thousands-of-wild.html

Police fr/5 States Descend on Standing Rock

Cannonball, ND – Over 300 police officers in riot gear, 8 ATVs, 5 armored vehicles, 2 helicopters, and numerous military-grade humvees showed up north of the newly formed frontline camp just east of Highway 1806.  The 1851 Treaty Camp was set up this past Sunday directly in the path of the pipeline, on land recently purchased by DAPL.  Today this camp, a reclamation of unceded Dakota territory affirmed as part of the Standing Rock Reservation in the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1851, was violently cleared.  Both blockades established this past weekend to enable that occupation were also cleared.

In addition to pepper spray and percussion grenades, shotguns were fired into the crowd with less lethal ammunition and a sound cannon was used (see images below).  At least one person was tased and the barbed hook lodged in his face, just outside his eye. Another was hit in the face by a rubber bullet.

Photo by Sara Lafleur-Vetter

Photo by Sara Lafleur-Vetter

A prayer circle of elders, including several women, was interrupted and all were arrested for standing peacefully on the public road.  A tipi was erected in the road and was recklessly dismantled, despite promises from law enforcement that they would merely mark the tipi with a yellow ribbon and ask its owners to retrieve it.  A group of water protectors was also dragged out of a ceremony in a sweat lodge erected in the path of the pipeline, wearing minimal clothing, thrown to the ground, and arrested.

Photo by Sara Lafleur-Vetter

Photo by Sara Lafleur-Vetter

A member of the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC) that had her wrist broken during a mass-arrest on October 22nd was hurt again after an officer gripped her visibly injured wrist and twisted it during an attempted arrest. At least six other members of the youth council verified that they had been maced up to five times and were also shot and hit with bean bags. In addition to being assaulted, an altar item and sacred staff was wrenched from the hands of an IIYC member by police. Several other sacred items were reported stolen, including a canupa (sacred tobacco pipe).

Two medics giving aid at front line were hit with batons and thrown off the car they were sitting on. Then police grabbed another medic, who was driving the car, out of the driver side while it was still in motion. Another water protector had to jump into the car to stop it from hitting other people.

Photo by Sara Lafleur-Vetter

Photo by Sara Lafleur-Vetter

Members of the horse nation herded around 100 buffalo from the west and southwest of the Cannonball Ranch onto the the DAPL easement. One rider was reportedly hit with up to four rubber bullets his horse was reported to be hit in the legs by live rounds. Another horse was shot and did not survive.

A confirmed DAPL private security guard was spotted among the protectors with an automatic rifle heading towards camp. Water protectors acted swiftly to stop the man who was attempting to flee the scene in his pickup. One protector stopped the assailant’s vehicle with their own before the security guard fled to nearby waters, weapon in hand. Bureau of Indian Affairs police arrived on scene and apprehended him.

Three water protectors locked themselves to a truck in the middle of the road and surrounded it with large logs.   After several hours of standoff, the police advanced in a sweep line and moved people approximately 1 mile back down the highway towards the main encampment on the Cannonball River.  Water protectors then retreated to the bridge over Highway 1806  and erected a large burning blockade that the police were unable to cross.

Law enforcement from at least five states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska) were present today through EMAC, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.  This law was passed by the Bill Clinton administration and allows states to share law enforcement forces during emergencies.  It is intended for natural disasters and has only been used twice for protests; once in the summer of 2015 during the demonstrations in Baltimore and here on the Standing Rock Reservation. Over 100 were arrested today in total.

Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network stated, “I went to the frontline in prayer for protection of the Missouri River & found myself in what I can only describe as a war zone. I was sprayed in the face with pepper spray, the guy next to me was shot by something that didn’t break the skin but appeared to have broken the ribs & another guy beside me was randomly snatched violently by police shoving me into the officers who held me off with batons then tried to grab me.  I’m still in shock & keep waiting to wake from what’s surely a nightmare though this is my reality as a native woman in 2016 trying to defend the sacred.”

Ladonna Bravebull Allard of Sacred Stone Camp says, “My people stand for the water, and they attack us. My people stand up for the graves of our people, and they attack us. My people stand up for our sacred places, and they attack us. My people pray, and they stop us, dragging us from our prayer, and throw us in the dirt. I know this is America- this is the history of my people. America has always walked though the blood of my people.

How can we stand in the face of violence? Because I was born to this land, because the roots grow out of my feet, because I love this land and I honor the water. Have we not learned from history? I pray for each of the people who stand up. We can not live like this anymore. It has to stop- my grandchildren have a right to live. The world has a right to live. The water, the life blood of the world? has a right to live. Mni Wiconi, Water of Life. Pray for the water, pray for the people. Stop Dakota Access- killer of the world.”

Eryn Wise of the International Indigenous Youth Council stated, “Today more than half of our youth council were attacked, injured or arrested. In addition to our brothers and sisters being hurt and incarcerated, we saw police steal our sacred staff. I have no words for what happened to any of us today. They are trying to again rewrite our narrative and we simply will not allow it. Our youth are watching and remember the faces of the officers that assaulted them. They pray for them.”

 

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Shotgun into the crowd: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BysUexxOGui6a3BXQ3NWdDJ5TTQ/view?usp=sharing

Peppersray: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BysUexxOGui6VFZJemhaMU9Iek0/view?usp=sharing

Prayer Circle: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BysUexxOGui6NUJodDVKZDAxLTA/view?usp=sharing

from:    http://sacredstonecamp.org/blog/2016/10/28/police-from-5-states-escalate-violence-shoot-horses-to-clear-1851-treaty-camp

Indigenous Activism & the Environment

The growing indigenous spiritual movement that could save the planet

North Dakota is just the beginning.

Demonstrators in Canon Ball protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. CREDIT: Flickr/Joe Brusky

When Pua Case landed in North Dakota to join the ongoing Standing Rock protests in September, she, like thousands of other participants, had come to defend the land.

Masses of indigenous people and their allies descended on camps along Cannonball River this year to decry the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, a series of 30-inch diameter underground pipes that, if built, would stretch 1,172 miles and carry half a million barrels of crude oil per day — right through lands Native groups call sacred.

“We are not here to be anything but peaceful, but we are here,” Case told ThinkProgress, describing the moment she linked arms with fellow demonstrators and stared down rows of police in Bismarck. “We will stand here in our tribal names in respect and honor.”

A Lakota Sioux and her 5-year-old son pose for a photo at a protest camp erected to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. CREDIT: AP Photo/James MacPherson

But while media attention has focused on the massive, sometimes heated demonstrations—which include several alleged instances of brutality and dog attacks —there has been less attention paid to how the protest is recharging the lager climate movement, not to mention the peculiar nature of the participants. Case, for instance, traveled quite a long way to the Peace Garden State: she is from the sunny shores of Hawaii, not rugged North Dakota, and she claims a Native Hawaiian identity, not a Native American one. And she wasn’t there just to protest; the sacredness of the land is especially important to her, so she was also there to pray.

“Standing Rock is a prayer camp,” she said. “It is where prayers are done.”

“Standing Rock is a prayer camp. It is where prayers are done.”

Case’s experience is shockingly common—both as a protester visiting a far-flung land to support a Native cause, and as a witness to an emerging indigenous spiritual movement that is sweeping North America.

She’s part of something bigger that is, by all accounts, the theological opposite of the aggressively Christian “awakenings” that once dominated American life in the 18th and 19th centuries, when primarily white, firebrand ministers preached a gospel of “manifest destiny”—the religious framework later used to justify the subjugation of Native Americans and their territories. The diverse constellation of Native theologies articulated at Standing Rock and other indigenous protest camps champions the reverse: they seek to protect land, water, and other natural resources from further human development, precisely because they are deemed sacred by indigenous people.

And this year, after centuries of struggle, their prayers are starting to be answered.

The size and intensity of the Standing Rock protest caught many observers off guard — the media included. Beginning with just a few tents sprinkled across a barren field earlier this year, protesters now say nearly 10,000 people have visited the thriving camps, with guests hailing from as many as 300 different indigenous tribes.

“Seeing all the tribes come out was just incredible,” Caro “Guarding Red Tarantula Woman” Gonzales, a 26-year-old Standing Rock protester and founding member of the International Indigenous Youth Council, told ThinkProgress. “We can do that for every single indigenous fight.”

“Seeing all the tribes come out was just incredible.”

Expressions of solidarity between indigenous groups may sound predictable, but the history of Native American activism is pockmarked with internal squabbles. Early attempts to unify indigenous causes in the United States, such as the creation of the American Indian Movement in the 1960s, have since been marred by controversy and factionalism. Native Hawaiians once avoided connections between their cause and that of Native Americans, lest they suffer the same humiliating defeats as those in the continental United States. And while flashes of unified activism persisted throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, indigenous communities in North America often struggled to win major victories — legal, cultural, or otherwise.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress

But all that changed in December 2012, when four women in Western Canada — three First Nations women and one non-Native ally — held a teach-in to protest legislation they said would weaken environmental laws that protect lands Natives hold sacred.

The activists entitled their demonstration “Idle No More,” and the movement exploded on social media; within days, flash mobs performing traditional spiritual dances sprung up in city centers and shopping malls across the country. Taking cues from Occupy Wall Street’s organic structure, a series of marches, rallies, and direct-action peaceful protests that blocked highways and railways quickly followed, making headlines in Canada and abroad.

Idle No More’s success set off a firestorm of solidarity protests among indigenous groups in the United States, who in turn used the energy to draw attention to their own local fights — virtually all which involved some sort of spiritual claim. In Hawaii, protesters inculcated the same tactics — and sometimes even the same slogans — into an ongoing effort to halt the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop Mauna Kea, a volcano Native Hawaiians consider sacred. In Arizona, members of the Apache nation began occupying an area known as Oak Flat, vowing to fend off the proposed development of a copper mine on land they call holy. And when environmentalists pushed back against the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline, organizations such as the Cowboy and Indian Alliance bolstered the existing climate change movement with Native activists in both Canada and the United States.

A Native American prayer stick is held near the capital during a Keystone XL protest in 2014. CREDIT: AP Photos/Manuel Balce Cenata

“Idle No More raised our consciousness,” Gonzales, who is of the Chemehievi nation, said. “When people are chaining themselves to bulldozers, that is prayer.”

Meanwhile, something new happened: social media allowed indigenous people across the country to show support for their fellow activists with a few simple clicks, adding hashtags and memes to their own Facebook and Twitter profiles. The digital connections helped elevate their respective causes, but also forged real-world relationships between activists in different tribes.

“When people are chaining themselves to bulldozers, that is prayer.”

By the time Standing Rock rolled around, a spiritual network of indigenous people was already in full effect.

“Many of the people I met at Standing Rock I’ve been friends with on Facebook for years,” said Case, who has been a key organizer in Native Hawaiian activist circles.

Case noted that she and several of the Standing Rock protesters had been “sending prayers” back and forth over social media for some time. These connections inspired Native Americans such as Caleen Sisk of California’s Winnemem Wintu nation to join her in an occupation of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Years later, Case returned the favor by assisting Sisk in her effort to restore California waterways once frequented by millions of local salmon.

“We prayed on each others’ mountains and made commitments to one another,” Case said, speaking over the phone just minutes after finishing a ceremonial raft ride down the river. “They have prayed for us — they’ve come out physically to Mauna Kea. So now it’s our turn.”

“The most important word here is alliances,” she said.

Asked about the movement’s religious elements, Gonzales insisted spirituality isn’t a cursory side-effect but a crucial, driving force behind the recent surge of Native environmental activism. Virtually all of the protests she has attended, she said, featured some form of prayer or sacred ritual.

“All of us are protesting because we are part of this sacred [connection] to the earth,” Gonzales said. “We are all the mountains, we are all the birds — it sounds corny, but it’s true.”

Native protestors rally on Capitol Hill in 2015 to stop the construction of a copper mine in Oak Flat, Arizona. CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Jack Jenkins

It would be a mistake to characterize the new wave of indigenous activism as emanating from a uniform, codified theology. All of the activists ThinkProgress interviewed insisted they spoke only for themselves when discussing faith, explaining that each tribe harbors its own unique spiritual traditions, practices, and customs forged over the course of centuries, if not millennia.

But for all their differences, the various indigenous populations share a common theological belief typical of what Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, a Native Hawaiian activist, called “earth-based” cultures: that the environment, at least in parts, is sacred in and of itself.

“Earth-based cultures are tied to places,” Mangauil, whose current Facebook profile picture reads “Solidarity with Standing Rock,” said. “There is no separation from our spirituality and our environment — they are one and the same.”

“Other [religious groups] have these debates over whether or not God exists — but I know my god exists,” he added, referencing Mauna Kea, which towers above his island home. “It’s the mountain — I can see it.”

“Other [religious groups] have these debates over whether or not god exists — but I know my god exists. It’s the mountain — I can see it.”

Religion has long been a part of Native American protest movements, as has its connection to the environmentalist struggle. But religious scholars say they’re also seeing something unusual this year: demonstrators are actively creating new religious expressions. Greg Johnson, a Hawaiian religion expert and an associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said these indigenous protests are increasingly led by young, creative organizers who are “generating” religion through their activism.

TOP: A Native Hawaiian chants before oral arguments at the Hawaii State Supreme Court regarding the Thirty Meter Telescope in August 2015. BOTTOM: A man blows a conch shell near a protest camp next to the summit of Mauna Kea in 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/Craig T. Kojima, AP Photo/Caled Jones

“The kids of today’s generation know a new set of chants, a new set of prayers because of those who came before them,” Johnson said. He noted that Native Hawaiian schoolchildren are already singing songs written in the protest camps of Mauna Kea just a year before. “In this moment of crisis, the religious tradition is catalyzed, activated, but most of all articulated — this is when it happens.”

While this groundswell of religious generation is rooted in old traditions, it sometimes reawakens ancient elements that can challenge elders.

“My sacredness as a human is part of my tradition — myself as a protector, as a sacred protector.”

“To introduce another spiritual element — I am a two spirit,” Gonzales said, referencing a Native American term used to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in their communities. Although traditionally celebrated in many tribes, two-spirit people have not always been welcomed by modern indigenous people. Yet when Gonzales and others formed the International Indigenous Youth Council at Standing Rock, the majority of the leadership identified as two-spirit — a designation they link to their faith.

“My sacredness as a human is part of my tradition — myself as a protector, as a sacred protector,” she said. “There are a lot of two-sprits at [the Standing Rock] camp, and that is sacred too… We see that as integral to our activism.”

Faith is a core mobilizing and stabilizing force for the movement, but it’s also central to the legal arguments used by Native groups to defend their land. In addition to other claims, both the Oak Flat and Standing Rock lawsuits contend that the federal government — or the companies it employs — violated the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires agencies to “consult with any Indian tribe… that attaches religious and cultural significance to properties with the area of potential effects.” The Hawaii case is similarly rooted in disputes over sacred land, although the lawsuit currently focuses on state laws, not the federal statutes.

Native groups can also lean on the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, which compels the federal government to “protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise [their] traditional religions…including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”

But according to Johnson, an expert on sacred land disputes, the law is often not enough to guarantee indigenous groups a win.

One of the camps near North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux reservation on September 9, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/James MacPherson

“There is very little track record of sacred land victories,” he said. “More likely what they will generate is allegiances, attention — the secondary effects of having made the case for their tradition.”

“There is very little track record of sacred land victories.”

Indeed, the movement thus far has largely been sustained through protest and agitation. The legal case to protect Standing Rock ultimately fell flat in early September, for instance, when a U.S. District Court judge denied the nation’s request to halt pipeline construction. But the movement proved more powerful than one judge: shortly after the ruling, the Obama administration — under pressure from scores of Native groups and their allies — called on the Dakota Access to stop construction voluntarily, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily halted work on the pipeline shortly thereafter.

Such is the recurring — and increasingly successful  — strategy of these protests. Slowly accruing support and attention over time, and leaning on sacred claims, activists whittle away the patience of corporations and government officials until they (ideally) give up.

In Hawaii, construction of the TMT is currently stalled while lawyers debate aspects of the construction process, prompting The Hawaii Island New Knowledge fund to begin investigating alternative sites. In March, the Obama administration moved to place Oak Flat on the National Register of Historic Places, adding another bureaucratic hoop preventing the Resolution Copper company from installing a mine on site. The Lummi Nation in Washington State successfully defeated an effort to build the largest coal port ever in North America near their land earlier this year, and Native groups are also credited with helping stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015.

A Dakota Pipeline protest in Washington, DC in September. CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Alejandro Davila

And in addition to their secular allies in the climate movement, indigenous groups are also attracting partners in non-Native faith traditions. Representatives from the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist Church have all visited the Standing Rock camp or expressed solidarity with the protesters, as has the Nation of Islam, according to the Religion News Service.

But the fight is far from over. Many of these disputes—including the Dakota Access Pipeline—are not yet resolved, and Native activists are already gearing up for new campaigns. In late September, dozens of tribes in Canada and the United States signed a treaty pledging to combat any further development of Canadian “tar sands,” which they say put their reservations and “sacred waterways” at risk of oil spills.

“If one of us loses, then we all have to work harder,” Case said. “We need to be stronger every day, and I believe the creator believes that’s what we need as well.”

Case said movement members will continue to lean on each other for strength moving forward (“We could use some prayer,” she joked) and that they won’t rest until they make it clear that the environment — earth, sky, and water — is, in a very literal sense, sacred.

There comes a time when people have a right to say no — and now is that time,” she added. “So we’re saying no, resoundingly, like the thundering sky.”

FROM:    https://thinkprogress.org/indigenous-spiritual-movement-8f873348a2f5#.khsb77fms