By Kimberlee Medicine Horn Jackson
Editor’s Note: Sunday, April 30 is Native American Ministries Sunday in The United Methodist Church. Your generous contributions to the special offering on that day support, equip, and empower. Funds given by East Ohio Conference congregations to previous Native American Ministries Sunday offerings sponsored a group of Native women from Ohio for a one-week trip to Standing Rock.
Kimberlee Medicine Horn Jackson, MFA, MA, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of English at Kent State University and a member of the Yankton Sioux tribe, shares her accounts and photos of that trip.
Mni Wiconi: mni translates from Lakota to English as the word water and wiconi translates from Lakota to English as the word life. This explains the term “Water is life,” a simple yet powerful mantra water protectors use to stand against big oil to help protect drinking water for 17 million people when the Dakota Access Pipeline malfunctions.
The question is not if the pipeline breaks but when. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) will be drilled under the Missouri river: the only drinking water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota. Most people reading this will heave a sigh of relief and think it does not apply to them, and feel unconcerned but the bigger picture. When one considers how many pipelines crisscross our United States and the number of them that fail, oil shows no partiality to any of the living things in the areas where it leaks into the soil or water.
In April 2016, I learned about the DAPL, and that the initial planned route went through Bismarck, North Dakota. Once the officials of Bismarck realized the catastrophic results of water contamination and found the consequences unacceptable, the pipeline was re-routed to less than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
A year ago, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard posted a video where she gave a call-to-action to her people and all others interested in saving the water to stand with her in solidarity to fight the progress of DAPL. Allard is a Lakota historian and activist who founded the first resistance camp of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, Sacred Stones, which is on Allard’s private property. She informed the viewer how the creation of the pipeline would desecrate burial grounds of the Sioux Nation and disturb places where artifacts exist. There was undeniable despair in her voice. The youth had also been active in raising awareness for this threat-to-life and were concerned how this would affect future generations.
Each day I checked my newsfeed and witnessed as the Sacred Stone camp, a place of prayer, grew. Then the Oceti Sakowin camp formed near the Sacred Stone camp and this was the first time since the Battle of Greasy Grass in 1876 (aka Little Big Horn, or Custer’s Last Stand) that representatives from all the bands of the Great Sioux Nation gathered.
Oceti Sakowin means the Seven Council Fires and includes the Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota Sioux and the bands that comprise them. Something of great significance was happening. History was unfolding, and I felt a strong pull to be there. It was a spiritual draw I could hardly ignore. It kept at me and I did not know then how I could get there or how long I could stay but I clearly felt my people were calling for me to join them and the allies to stand together in unity and prayer.
I remember with clarity the first few actions the water protectors did as I watched the live-feed on social media. They were unarmed. Some of the direct actions were simply standing at a certain place and praying and singing songs passed down by the ancestors. I felt deep respect for my people. Then one day I saw the DAPL police oppose the water protectors with intimidation tactics and I did not understand the push back but I felt the sickening fear as I watched unarmed women, some of them children and grandmothers, flee. All the while, the live-feed was going, and always, whoever was documenting, said, “The whole world is watching,” while attempting to reason with the aggressors. Something was dreadfully wrong.
Throughout history, white and Native relationships have ranged from dysfunctional to genocidal with the white race acting as the oppressor and the Native people engaging in self-preservation to survive the countless attempts of removal, but we are still here!
All the attempts to disconnect us from our connection to Creator have failed to varying degrees. Standing Rock was proof that we are still here, and that we can unify by standing together armed only with our prayers to bring awareness to the environmental injustices humans have committed against the only planet earth we have. In truth, this is a spiritual battle we fight against powers and principalities and not flesh and blood although the flesh and blood of the water protectors were at stake, as it is for anyone who stands in the front lines against big oil/big business.