Right now, corporations threaten the lifeblood of Mother Earth. There are thousands of water protectors mobilized against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) in Cannonball, ND, on the traditional territories of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, guaranteed to the Tribe in the 1851 and 1868 treaties with the US government. The activists at Standing Rock are not only concerned with protecting their sovereign rights, history, and land; they’re fighting for the health of the land and water for millions of US citizens along the Missouri River.
Frankly, they’re gifting Americans with an opportunity to critically analyze the state of our so-called democracy. Their resistance is a wake-up call. We are living in a time of great change and tribal prophecies have foreshadowed what's to come.
My work as an artist and activist responds to the pervasive colonizer mentalities of racism, entitlement, misogyny, and domination plaguing this country. Native history is everyone's history, here on the territories now called the United States of America. We Native people are still here on the land of our ancestors despite the calculated genocide of our relatives. Our life experiences are a strength that we can draw upon in times of need. Our people are superheroes poised to shake our collective sleepy psyches awake. It's not just brown and black bodies these corporate psychopaths are sacrificing for blood money—it’s everyone.
Indigenous people all around the world have been facing environmental genocide for centuries. Colonial corporate greed permeates the air we breathe. But Energy Transfer Partners’ BLACK SNAKE (DAPL) should concern us all. Their investors and shareholders are raping the lands and poisoning the waters that nurture everyone’s lives. Chemicals released into the environment as the result of domestic oil and natural gas production can damage our reproductive health. Our future generations are facing genocide before they are even born.
Mainstream media often ignores the pattern of numerous pipelines that have leaked, spilled and broken as our capacity for domestic oil production continues to grow. The most recent spill happened just last week in Cushing, Oklahoma, when a section of one of the biggest pipelines in the country burst. On October 20, 55,000 gallons of gasoline spilled into a tributary of Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River, and just a month before that, another pipeline ruptured and dumped 250,000 gallons of gasoline in rural Alabama. On October 13, the Heiltsuk First Nation characterized the oil spill just north of Vancouver Island as an “environmental disaster” to their clam beds. With these clear patterns of corporate pipelines failing, it's not a matter of IF the Dakota Access Pipeline will break. It’s WHEN.
The way we treat the earth is inseparable from how our society treats women. Rapists rape because they feel entitled to do so, because they’re abetted by cultures that systematically dehumanize certain bodies and lands. But what if we re-educated all Americans to feel empowered and proud to protect Mother Earth? What if we prioritized healing the bodies of water and land over buying a new car every year, or created a culture that values sustainable practices? What if the majority of Super Bowl commercials made it feel exciting to be environmental stewards?!?!
This is why Natives and non-Natives alike must honor the sacrifices being made by the water protectors resisting another dangerous pipeline project. Let's hold one another accountable for the waste of precious resources. Let's nurture our children’s natural love for Mother Earth and reward them for being good stewards of the land. Our strength comes from protecting, not raping.
If you strip away the illusions of consumption and capitalism, you will realize that there is a connection to the earth that cannot be severed or ignored. Your bloodline is your heritage and your ancestry — the future generations, your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and all your relatives throughout history and the natural world. To stand up for what is right and to be a true warrior is about the importance of honoring the water ways, the lifeblood of Mother Earth, and the presence of our ancestors in every molecule and particle surrounding us today.
My final thoughts come directly from the woman who initiated the stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Ladonna Bravebull Allard, who founded Sacred Stone Camp, says: "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 cannot 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.”
Warriors on the front lines are standing for land and life, not only for the sacred water here, but for water across the globe. One day, when this is over and we win this fight, I want my grandchildren to be able to say, "My grandmother fought for me so I could be here today."
Tracy Rector is a mixed race Choctaw/Seminole curator and filmmaker, a co-founder of Longhouse Media, and serves as a Seattle Arts Commissioner. Rector has made 360 short films, is currently in production of her third feature documentary, CLEARWATER, and has most recently curated BLOODLINES, featuring contemporary works by Indigenous artists on the significance of ancestry, identity, and political action at Bridge Productions.