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Students travel, volunteer at Standing Rock Reservation

| Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Over Thanksgiving break, Saint Mary’s students Nohemi Toledo, Megan Uekert, Teresa Brickey and Adrienne Whisman, and Notre Dame students Jenn Cha, Carrera Brown, Armani Porter, Cameron Hart, Carolyn Yvellez and Dominic Acri, and Garrett Blad travelled to Standing Rock Reservation to winterize the Oceti Sakowin Camp (Editor’s note: Uekert is a News writer for The Observer).

Students from both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s traveled to Standing Rock over Thanksgiving break to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Whisman

Students from both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s traveled to Standing Rock over Thanksgiving break to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Saint Mary’s student Adrienne Whisman said the experience was very enlightening and necessary, and the water protectors’ protest to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline is more than just a protest.

“This isn’t just a protest, but a coming together of various people from various tribes and walks of life who believe that native rights come before capitalism or money making,” Whisman said. “While I was there, I saw children playing, Buddhist monks talking with native people. I saw flags from so many countries and tribes that there’s an entire road dedicated to them. I heard ceremonies and witnessed people sharing their supplies and helping each other, all without expecting anything from one another. It was a different way of living, and it was a place where all of us, despite our differences, could come together for a common cause, that of preserving the Earth and helping our native brothers and sisters.”

Whisman and her peers went to the Oceti Sakowin camp, the main camp on the reservation.

​“The camp is a ceremonial prayer camp,” Whisman said. “It has no weapons, no illegal substances, and is there as a continuation of the 500 years of resistance to colonization and genocide. There were thousands of people there and it is the largest gathering of First Nation indigenous people in 100 years. While our group was there, a prayer circle occurred to combat the police and army presence on sacred sites and burial grounds. They gave their press conference in response to the eviction notice issued, one that would take effect Dec. 5.”

Whisman said she helped build a floor in order to insulate one of the tents.

“I personally helped the Haudenosaunee camp winterize their tent by building a floor,” Whisman said. “Winter there is cold, and many [people]  have been there for months, so the need to insulate and prepare has taken precedence.”

Whisman said she wanted to help out any way she could, because what’s happening on the reservation is so important.

“I wanted to go because water is life, it is the Nakota, Lakota, Dakota indigenous people’s land and culture that this pipeline is going over.,” Whisman said. “I wanted to be an ally and provide any help I could both through donations and a physical presence. Many people don’t realize the extent of all that is going on. The news, if it reports on this at all, focuses on the water protectors and injuries done to them. We need to also focus on the fact that this is an ongoing struggle that has been occurring since Europeans came over here and stayed, taking land and lives to fuel their own greed and wants.”

Although the trip was orchestrated by the students, Whisman said they had faculty and staff supporters. She hopes that there will be school sanctioned trips in the future, but for now she said there are many things those looking to help can do.

“If you want to help, look online for what donations are needed, they have an amazon wish list as well as various websites that are updated as needs arise,” she said. “Call on President Obama and any government officials you can and demand they stand up and speak out against the human rights violations at Standing Rock perpetuated by the police presence. If you’re white or non-native, remember that this isn’t about you. It’s about the continued exploitation and disregard for indigenous lives and the preservation of them and their culture.”

Whisman said one must be aware of the past in order to create a brighter future for natives, and everyone in the United States.

“The recognition of this movement worldwide and by non natives really needs to be taken within the context of the fact that this sort of exploitation of the natives and the land has been going on throughout and before the United States became a country,” Whisman said. “The orientation meeting called for us to create a new legacy wherein we don’t forget the horrors of the past, nor the fact that for many centuries the U.S. government and people were complicit in systematic and widespread genocide and land-stealing. We do need to remember this, but we as allies can create a new future where we don’t continue this legacy but work to rid our laws and government of the prejudices and special interests that cause these things to happen.”

Correction Nov. 29, 3 p.m.: A previous version of this story did not include senior Cameron Hart, junior Carolyn Yvellez or 2015 graduate Garrett Blad, who also traveled to the Standing Rock Reservation over Thanksgiving break.

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  • Walt Osgood

    Once again you have to mention that “Dreaded White Man”…

    • Adrienne W

      I mean if we’re talking about systematic genocide of indigenous populations, then yes that “dreaded white man.” If we’re talking about the disregard, dehumanization, and forced suffering of indigenous populations by European colonizers, then yes that “dreaded white man.” As a history student, I learn a bunch of different perspectives on history and what white Americans learn in school is very much a biased interpretation of reality and history. We rarely talk about what exactly white settlement meant for indigenous populations and their culture, nor how we directly influenced shifts in culture, usually in horrific ways. We introduced alcohol to subdue natives and make them dependent on us as traders. We killed off the majority of buffalo, forcing many tribes to starve and therefore give in to the demands of settling on reservations. We forced many to sign treaties where land was given to us, then broke the treaties and took the rest of the land. Have you ever looked at a map of what the tribal borders were like before white settlers came? Have you ever compared it to today’s maps of reservations? We had no right to this land, nor to the entire continent, yet we demanded it from the people who had lived here for millennia. Imagine if someone from a different culture, different land, came in and demanded your house because they felt entitled to it. You wouldn’t willingly hand it over, or you might try to share it if you’re feeling generous. Now imagine what it’s like to be on the receiving end of Manifest Destiny. We don’t know how many natives died due to European occupation, but the estimates from credible sources say between 50 million and 140 million. Imagine your entire people dying and history trying to cover it up by blaming disease and ignoring your presence. We never talk about white people’s role in the decimation of entire peoples, and I think it’s time we did. Stop trying to defend yourself and white people and start thinking about what you can learn from others and how you can rewrite how history remembers the forgotten. America doesn’t like to confront it’s nasty history. We participated in imperialism, in the internment of Japanese-American citizens, in the genocide of indigenous peoples, in the enslavement of millions of Africans, and echoes of these events are still seen in our own very real racism and systematic prejudices. I would encourage you to look into why exactly white people aren’t liked or respected by many communities. Maybe you don’t agree with me, and that’s fine. But try to see where I am coming from, where these communities are coming from, and show respect for their ideas, as they are just as valid and based in experience as yours.

  • conway0516

    Where was everyone two years ago when open hearings were held for the construction of this pipeline and NO ONE from the tribe or representing the tribe showed up to express concerns? Glad the bandwagon was comfortable for you now.

    The stalling of the pipeline has zero basis in law and is a gross government overreach. It was already cleared and approved and now private enterprise is being hindered for no reason. Is the sacred ground approved for a casino?

    • Adrienne W

      I mean it does have basis in law as it is required by law to stop any and all construction when historical preservation is in the mix. We as a nation tend to overlook and disregard native historical sites so it’s no wonder DAPL used a report from 1985 to justify their building and didn’t do an independent survey of the path. The fact that there are sacred sites in the path of the pipeline says something. DAPL has disregarded multiple court deliberations and continued progress of the pipe, even though legally they had to wait for a court decision. The UN, The DOJ, and every level of courts is involved in this. If it really was nothing, would it really be an international incident. We are bound by the UN in upholding Indigenous rights, and so far we haven’t done much to help them.
      Also, as a history student, I know there is a trend within US culture and government to disregard and overlook native culture and sites. I would ask you to actually look up how again and again the US government coerced natives into treaties and then broke them when it was convenient. I would also ask that you look at this from a native perspective. To them, we white people stole their land and forced them into poverty and in many cases forced many tribes and cultures into extinction. I also want you to see this from an environmental perspective. Oil is a limited resource. We (hopefully) are on the track to using “clean energy” and renewable resources as our main source. Hopefully we do this otherwise we will destroy this planet for ourselves permanently. This pipeline is a product of here and now greed for instant gain without regard for the future generations nor regard for what the future of energy will be. Teddy Roosevelt endorsed and helped create the National Parks because he knew that if left to their own devices, capitalists and big businesses would consume all the natural wonders of this nation, leaving nothing for the future. As Teddy Roosevelt said: “our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

      • conway0516

        So is the blame to be placed on the company building the pipeline or the Federal government for issuing the permits? If our government is at fault, what is it their right to essentially cause a company to spend $3.7 billion and take it all away? If this is the case, the government needs to find a new route, or make the pipeline operator whole plus the value of all contracts on this pipeline going forward. The company has followed every letter of the law and now the government has stopped construction for no legal reason. The disputed area does not traverse reservation land, and the sacred sites are disputed. If it is so bad, then why did the tribe not come forward 2 years ago when the company planned the pipe and rerouted it several times to appease parties involved?

        The fact of the matter is the oil is coming out of the ground. Stopping the pipeline won’t stop that. It will just continue to be shipped by rail, which is not as safe or cost effective. The pipeline will open up rail for grain shipments which have been hindered as well.

        While the natives have every right to be pissed off in general, should everyone cede their home or office because it was built on land usurped by the white man? I work in Manhattan. I guess we should stop all construction because the island was purchased for a mere $24 in shells. A raw deal for sure.

        While I respect your argument to an extent, there are other sides to it and factors that need to be considered, even if they are economic (gasp!) and things don’t happen in a vacuum, clearly.

  • yellow1234

    There’s a lot of “I” in this article.

    Matthew, Chapter 6
    “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;a otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
    When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites* do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
    But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
    so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.