A crowd of silhouettes stood against the vast, star-speckled North Dakota sky. People from all corners of the globe joined together with their songs echoing for miles. Their chant was loud and clear: “Water is life.”
Roben White, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, described his time with fellow protesters at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in a speech at Clark’s “Educating for the Seventh Generation.”
Clark hosted its eighth annual celebration of Native American Heritage Month in Gaiser Hall on Nov. 4. According to the event press release, “Educating for the Seventh Generation” refers to “our responsibility to teach the future Seventh Generation to maintain our resources, traditions, and customs.”
White spoke as part of The Native American Culture Club’s presentation on the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline. White said the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been protesting the pipeline’s construction for months.
According to The Dakota Access Pipeline website, the crude oil pipeline will span from North Dakota to Illinois spanning nearly 1,200 miles.
The website discusses the merits of the pipeline, such as lowering dependence on foreign oil and stimulating local economy. Despite the presented benefits, White and the rest of the protestors at Standing Rock oppose its construction.
White said there are two key issues with the pipeline. The first is that it would be constructed over the graves of the Standing Rock Sioux’s ancestors, desecrating their sacred sites; the second is that the pipeline poses an environmental threat to the Standing Rock Sioux. “It’s about water,” White said. “It’s what we are created with. It’s paramount.”
The Standing Rock Sioux’s concern is the Pipeline is set to be built near the reservation’s primary water source, the Missouri River. The people of Standing Rock fear the pipeline might burst, poisoning the water supply of the almost 10,000 person tribe. White called on the audience to protect the cultural and environmental safety of the Standing Rock Sioux.
“That’s our responsibility,” White said. “Every human being on the face of this earth is supposed to do that. That’s your responsibility to him, and to yourself, and to her, and to everyone.”
And that’s just what event attendee Joni Chambers and her family did. “I haven’t been an activist forever,” Chambers said, but seeing what was happening in Standing Rock motivated her to become one. Chambers said she has been doing everything she can to help raise awareness over social media.
Chambers teared up as she talked about how important the issue is to her and her family. She has two nephews who traveled to Standing Rock to join the protest. “They are there for the long haul,” Chambers said; she plans to join them in December.
Some Clark students share Chambers’s passion. Chana Smith, a member of the Native American Culture Club, described how the events in Standing Rock have personally impacted her.
“This hits my emotions really hard,” Smith said. She said the ongoing protests at Standing Rock have affected her school life, and that it was difficult to focus on homework and sit through exams when her mind wanted to be with the people of Standing Rock.
The Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline were not the sole focus of the night. The evening also featured dance performances from Hula Halau Kaleinani ‘O Ke Kukui and a traditional memorial song from members of the Native American Veteran’s Association.