Eryn Wise, Organizer for Honor the Earth, Media Coordinator for the Sacred Stone camp and Media Liaison for International Indigenous Youth Council, visited Gunnison on Monday, April 10, to give the keynote address for Western State’s Environmental Studies Spring Symposium. Wise is a Jicarilla Apache and Laguna Pueblo descendant. She shared her experiences leading actions against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation as part of the 21st Symposium’s theme, “Against All Odds: Strategies for Improbable Success.”
“One of the challenges of Standing Rock, for all of us to contemplate, is that many Native American communities weigh each decision in terms of how it will impact their people and land seven generations from now,” said Dr. John Hausdoerffer, Western State Master of Environmental Management Director and Executive Director of the Center for Environment and Sustainability. “So the question is whether a pipeline under a sacred body of water will stay safe and maintained for seven generations. Our country has crumbling infrastructure–bridges, roads, etc–far younger than seven generations, so what about the seven-generation future of pipelines? Thinking about that intensity of multi-generational responsibility offers a whole new level of measuring what is ‘sustainable’ versus what is not ‘sustainable.’ Eryn Wise offered our community a first-person story of her seventh generation challenge at Standing Rock.”
The Symposium began with an introduction from students and recognition of students who went to Standing Rock to protest and bring supplies. Six students traveled to the Sacred Stone Camp over Thanksgiving break.
“I was very proud of the Western students who went to Standing Rock to learn for themselves firsthand whether or not this pipeline was sustainable based on Native American cultural standards,” said Hausdoerffer. “I support any student who evaluates that long-term calculus and follows her or his conscience if it ultimately leads down the path of nonviolent protest.”
Wise took the floor with only her native, handmade jewelry as visual aids. In an intellectual setting, Wise managed to reach the audience’s emotional selves as she recalled memories of the struggle at Standing Rock. Memories of police abuse, of tear gas and water cannons, of lack of funds and supplies, and being forced to relocate camp time after time. She admitted at times buying comfort food to ease the pain of protesting when morale was low. Wise told of how a protest about land rights became about an issue of water and climate and first amendment rights.
“I don’t consider myself a protestor,” Wise said. “I consider myself a protector. I was there in objection to the misuse of natural resources such as water and land. I was there for the people. That’s why I went ultimately.” In the last nine months “protestors” have grown to hold a negative connotation associated to terrorist, Wise explained. The goal is not to object to energy developments, but to protect the earth from harm.
“Young people are so angry about the world they grew up in, but few people are taking the initiative to change it,” said Wise. If there’s anything she wants for protectors it’s for them to take control of their futures.
Wise is continuing her protection against corporate injustice and environmental degradation. She is currently organizing for Honor the Earth, established in 1993 by Winona LaDuke with a mission, “to address the two primary needs of the Native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change.”
Her struggle is now against Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 or Sandpiper, a pipeline carrying Tar Sands oil from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. The $7.5 billion pipeline corridor would cross unseated Ojibwe treaty territories and threaten wild rice, an important part of Anishinaabe culture. Protector camps are growing on White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. “Water is a valuable resource to everyone, but especially Minnesota economics,” said Wise.
Another action for those interested is Line 5 in Minnesota. More information can be found at oilandwaterdontmix.org. Another is Frack Off Greater Chaco, and more can be found at frackoffchaco.org. Wise advised students interested in being involved to pay attention to what’s happening in their communities and stay tuned to actions by following in the news and on social media.
Actions of protection are creating positive spaces for youth to channel anger and aggression toward hope and something to live for. Wise highlighted that all reservations face poverty and high rates of suicide. During the actions at Standing Rock there were no suicides at Standing Rock, but afterward they began again. She said the action against Dakota Access grew quickly because, “once people remembered who they were they kind of had a homecoming.”
Although Standing Rock failed to stop the pipeline from crossing under the Lake Oahe or from damaging culturally significant land, it did give legs to a movement and unite oppressed cultures. It rallied around the importance of the Dakota phrases, Mni Wiconi, “water is life,” and “water is sacred,” Mni Wakan.
Standing Rock History
While her first hand narrative was gripping and illuminating, Wise did not give many historical facts that led to the protest. As a brief reminder, here are a few: The US Army Corps of Engineers draft plan for the placing of the pipeline under the Missouri River was published in December 2015. The plan was open to public comment then. In April the Corps’ senior field archaeologist stated no historic properties would be affected, and the Standing Rock Sioux requested further survey. In July, Corps report said after the public review, “No significant comments remain unresolved.” In August, the Standing Rock Sioux sued the US Army Corps of Engineers over culturally significant sites, followed by a counter suit because of protests slowing progress.
In December the Corps halted construction for further an environmental impact statement, and protestors were forced to leave. Additional public comments were gathered between January 18 and February 20. On January 24, President Trump signed an executive memorandum instructing the Army to the review and approval process. On February 7, Dakota Access (an Energy Transfer Partners subsidiary) began construction under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. A US District Judge denied a joint tribal request for a restraining order to block construction and later denied an injunction. On February 17, the Corps terminated its environmental review. On February 22, the remaining protestors were forced to leave. The pipeline now carries 570,000 barrels of oil a day under the Missouri River.
The Dakota Access Pipeline cost $3.7 billion, crossed four states and traveled 1200 miles. Dakota Access is a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). President Trump sold his shares in ETP on December 5, 2016. Energy Transfer Partners shares rose 3% following Trump’s January 24 memorandum, up 7.5% since November. ETP donated to Trump Victory Campaign last summer.