“Mni Wiconi,” translated to mean “Water is Life,” is the motto of the movement at the Sacred Stone Camp at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota. Standing Rock, and the Dakota Access Pipeline project which has disturbed graves and other religious and historical sites, was the subject for a panel held on Nov. 29 at Montclair State University, which sits on traditional Lenape homelands.
The panel was preceded by a Lakota blessing and song by Michael Lees, an adjunct professor of religion at Montclair State. Lees, who has a Lakota background, has cousins out on the frontlines at Standing Rock and shared his prayers and songs to promote peace, strength and guidance.
“There’s always a bigger picture,” Lees said, who explained that the fight at Standing Rock is very much alive in the state of New Jersey, and it’s important to see beyond what’s happening at this Indian reservation. At Standing Rock, more than 500 arrests have taken place and 300 indigenous tribes have joined the thousands of “land protectors.”
Throughout the history of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) construction, the people at Sacred Stone Camp have remained peaceful, while law enforcement has responded with attack dogs, pepper spray, water cannons in freezing temperatures, tear gas and concussion grenades.
“Despite all of the odds, the water protectors are remaining steadfast and courageous,” said Matt Smith, organizer for Food and Water Watch. “We’re short on time but what we’re long on is hope, and a lot of that hope is coming right from Standing Rock.”
Food and Water Watch is a national non-profit whose mission is to protect clean drinking water, healthy food and clean, sustainable energy for all as basic human rights. Food and Water Watch fights to ban fracking, which poisons drinking water and is a danger to those at Standing Rock. Smith urged people to take action in whatever way they can in order to reclaim their right to live on a healthy planet.
“Without drinking water, no matter how much oil we are able to pump into our cars or how many temporary jobs these pipeline companies promise…without [water] everything else is meaningless,” Smith said.
Standing Rock has empowered local communities, like those in New Jersey, who have been trying to fight giant corporations and pipeline companies. It shows the possibilities of what resistance can look like and what they can do to find their own success.
Standing Rock has garnered a lot of international media attention, but not as much coverage from U.S. media. According to Dr. Mark Clatterbuck, associate professor of religion, this is largely due to media blockage in the U.S. with local press portraying the demonstrations as more violent. This has led to less accurate information and education for people in the U.S. on the subject of the DAPL and how it’s affecting the Standing Rock Sioux.
Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation of New York and New Jersey said the fight at Standing Rock is very much alive in the state of New Jersey. Similar to the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock, Perry and the people of the Ramapough Lenaape Nation have formed the Split Rock Prayer Camp to stop the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Pipeline that threatens both their people and their land.
For the past two weeks, they’ve been visited by police every day, and one officer threatened to shoot one of their elders. For this reason, and due to their own protocols of having no guns, alcohol, drugs or violence on the reservation at this camp, Perry said they teach non-violent tactics.
“The only possible way that we are going to survive going forward here as human beings is, it’s got to be nonviolent,” Perry said. “It’s got to be through prayer. It’s got to be through understanding.”
Smith urged both students and faculty to continue to voice their opinions about Standing Rock and other issues they find important to stand up for.
“It’s like a muscle,” Smith said. “If you don’t work it, it’ll go away.”
Perry expressed the importance for people to show their support for camps like Sacred Stone and Split Rock. He asked people to come visit, help improve their camp, plant their flag and “put [their] stamp on the camp” to show the community and law enforcement that these tribes are not alone.
The panel concluded with a comment from Montclair State student Jewel Boyd, a junior psychology major, who expressed her gratitude to have an event like this on campus that addresses these issues.
“I felt ignorant and helpless that I didn’t know these things were going on in my own community,” Boyd said. “It makes me want to do something. I actually want to go out and fight and be on the right side of history.”