It is September 4. I’m watching water protectors from across North America gathered in Standing Rock, North Dakota as they are attacked by dogs, shot with rubber bullets, and pepper sprayed.
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was originally planned to go through Bismarck, North Dakota, but it was re-routed due to concerns for the city’s water supply, to instead go through the Standing Rock reservation, in direct violation of the Fort Laramie treaty.
And this is the core of our resistance; when Indigenous people oppose pipelines in our territories, we are not only seeking to protect the land and water, but we are actively saying ‘not on our land,’ often the little reserve land we have left.
Here I am watching a corporation employing private security forces to attack our people as they protect their own lands. The next day I decide it’s time for me to join them.
Within 24 hours, I organize a pop-up fundraiser “#NoDAPL Angela Goes to Standing Rock” at the Garnet. Scott Somerville, Quinton Kohl, Josh Butcher, Mary-Kate Edwards, Evangeline Gentle, Sarah DeCarlo, Electric City Magazine’s own Dave Tough, Tara Williamson, Sean Conway, and the now-disbanded Faux Cults donate their time and music to the cause.
When the night ends, we’ve raised $735, my car is full of donated sleeping bags, medical supplies, tents, and more, and I now have a co-pilot, Tara Williamson. We left on Friday, having raised in total $2,700 and gathered even more goods to bring to the water protectors who have been camping at Standing Rock since April.
First and foremost, the Standing Rock camps are spirit camps: places of prayer for a spiritual fight against the “black snake,” which threatens their water supply.
Tara and I are but one small part of the Lakota’s fight against DAPL, a fight that the majority of Indigenous people and our allies are upholding in every community we live in, a fight against resource extraction, a fight for our inherent rights, a spiritual fight for the survival of our lifeways, knowledges, and relations.
It is November 9. Donald Trump has just won the US presidential election. I have spent the day crying in my housecoat, scrolling through my Facebook feed, scared for the world. The Peterborough Hand Drummers Collective has planned a #NoDAPL Rally at Confederation Square at 5pm. I don’t know if I can make it. I don’t know if I can go outside. The world feels different now, but I finally decide to join my roommate and go.
We gather our drums, our medicines, and what little strength we have left, and walk to the park. We arrive to Anishinaabe Elder Shirley Williams opening in prayer. There is a crowd of around 300 gathered in the cold fall air. The feeling is somber, as we all know what is facing us after last night’s results.
She hoped that I would get strength from carrying the blanket—strength to seek healing, to walk forward in our relationships, to seek out a different perspective.
When Shirley finishes, a speaker mentions that “there are people who went to Standing Rock here who are invited to speak.” I am in a fog when a friend makes eye contact. Oh, right. That’s me. I did that. Somehow the trip seems so small and far away as I approach the mic. I am wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket, and I decide to speak as to why I wear it.
The blanket was gifted to me by a Blackfeet friend who carried it before me. When I saw her with it, I scoffed and made a joke about how it should be burned. (The Hudson’s Bay Company isn’t a positive symbol for many Indigenous people.) My friend, when she later gifted it to me, told me that the colours are also Blackfeet colours, and she hoped that I would get strength from carrying the blanket—strength to seek healing, to walk forward in our relationships, to seek out a different perspective. “That is what we need now,” I say to those gathered in the park.
We continue with a round dance, stopping traffic on George, walking down the street praying with our voices, our drums, and our hearts, filling each other up in this time of fear and darkness.
It is December 15. I am writing this piece in the Only Café as jazz plays and snow falls outside. Here in Canada, our Prime Minister has recently approved the Kinder Morgan expansion and Enbridge’s Line 3, while rejecting the Northern Gateway project. The Northern Gateway rejection is a testament to the power of Indigenous communities and our allies saying no; a power that the other two projects are sure to see, and a power that has been strengthened by the Standing Rock fight.
At Standing Rock, the Army Corps has announced a re-route of DAPL and while many remain camped out of fear that this easement denial will be ignored, the tribe has asked for the majority to go home out of concern for safety of the campers in the North Dakota winter.
January will bring new challenges as Trump takes office, and companies around North America continue to seek out what they call resources; what we, Indigenous people and our allies, see as relations. We will continue to fight with our prayers, songs, bodies, to save our mother the earth. We will continue to say no to those things that threaten the water, and so threaten our lives, for at Standing Rock and beyond, the cry of “Mni Wiconi” is heard repeated over and over. “Water is Life.”
Show your support for Standing Rock. Come to the Water is Life benefit show on January 28 at Market Hall, part of the ReFrame Film Festival. Performers include Words on Fire Youth Poets, Dawn Martin, Angela Semple, Tara Willamson, and Sean Conway. (more info).
Cover image of “No Pipelines on Indigenous Land” banner by Dylan Miner at Artspace. Photo by Jon Lockyer.