Stand with Standing Rock: A Call to Action for Tribal Colleges and Universities

Volume 28, No. 1 - Fall 2016
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STANDING ROCK PROTEST CAMP AT THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE SITE

Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) have the ability to respond to opportunities much more quickly than mainstream higher education institutions, as they have less hierarchy. This ability provides a prime advantage to capitalize on one of the most amazing gatherings of Indigenous nations ever seen. Nearly 300 Native nations have pledged their support for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from tunneling under the Missouri River, in their effort to protect this life source.

This gathering formed in at least three major camps, consisting of the Sacred Stones Camp (the original camp site started in April 2016); the Oceti Sakowin Camp (the overflow camp that has grown to be the largest); and the camp along the south bank of the Cannon Ball River. The estimated population of the entire gathering has ranged upwards to 6,000 people, making it the 13th largest community/city in North Dakota. Indigenous nations from throughout the United States, Canada, Central and South America, and New Zealand are represented, while national coalitions such as Black Lives Matter, Protectors of Mauna Kea in Hawai’i, and others have expressed support.

INDIGENOUS NATIONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD HAVE ARRIVED TO PROTEST THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE

Indigenous nations from around the world have arrived by the thousands to show solidarity with the people of Standing Rock.

The Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation) has convened, which has not occurred since the Battle of Greasy Grass (a.k.a. the Battle of the Little Big Horn). The council lodge erected at this encampment has not been seen by the Lakota, Dakota, Nakoda, and other tribes for many generations. This has enormous significance in Indian Country.

OCETI SAKOWIN CONVENES FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1876

The Oceti Sakowin has not convened since 1876, when the Lakota and their allies defeated Custer and his 7th Cavalry.

People have come to the camp to visit for a day and end up staying for a week, a month, or more once they experience life there. Two of the most commonly heard comments from those just arriving are: “It is so peaceful” and “It is so clean.” No where will you find so many people living in nature’s elements in such prayerful comradery. Children play freely and attend school with great enthusiasm. The camp’s location in the lowland near the Missouri River limits Internet reception and has limited access to electricity so that children are not playing video games but learning how to engage with each other. Adults model interpersonal interaction, visiting one other, greeting elders and relatives, and helping others in camp. They also reinforce the familial relationships so important in Native culture.

PROTEST CAMPS AT STANDING ROCK ARE TRANQUIL, CLEAN AND ORDERLY

Far from the rowdy unruliness that characterizes protests elsewhere, those who visit the camps at Standing Rock remark on their tranquility, cleanliness, and order.

As Native nations enter the camp in a show of support, they frequently do so with great pageantry, ceremonial dress, songs, prayers, dances, and other protocols. Many describe their cultural worldview, historical framework, and struggles with similar issues.

BLACKFEET NATION REPRESENTATIVES JOIN THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE PROTESTS

Representatives from the Blackfeet Nation join more than 300 Indigenous nations in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Hopi arrived on Saturday, September 18, by sending two emissaries to ask permission to formally enter camp. Once granted permission, the group of approximately 20 people came forward in traditional dress, singing prayer songs, and performing dances that accompany the songs. They then expressed their support for the Standing Rock Sioux people and explained the meaning of the songs and dances. They shared their struggle with the Peabody mining company and efforts to protect their aquifer, and they asked for help and support. They ended with a prayer ceremony using corn pollen. Others have come to talk about their fight to stop the Tar Sands Gigaproject in northern Alberta, Canada, and the contaminants impacting tribal waters and fish in Washington.

CARRIE BILLY OF AIHEC STANDS WITH NAVAJO NATION FLAG

In intertribal solidarity, Carrie Billy (Diné), president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, stands with the flag of the Navajo Nation.

Esteemed Native leaders such as Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Carrier of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe; Carrie Billy, president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium; Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians; Winona LaDuke, environmental activist and author; Clyde Belcourt and Dennis Banks, past leaders of the American Indian Movement; Billy Mills, Olympian and motivational speaker; and others have visited and/or camped in support of this movement. Congressmen Raúl Ruiz from California and Raúl Grijalva from Arizona have spent time in camp, as well as a host of other influential individuals.

BRIAN CLADOOSBY, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL CONGRESS OF AMERICAN INDIANS

Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, shows his support for Standing Rock.

The gathering at Standing Rock affords TCU students an educational opportunity that is astounding. The implications for Native studies are obvious from a historical perspective of what has led the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to take this position. But the educational opportunities that the events at Standing Rock offer permeate every aspect of higher education curriculum. Education students, for example, have the opportunity to examine the development of a new school in the camp and can study the application of education theory and practice within this uniquely Native context. Questions regarding how best to effectively use a natural educational laboratory, how to meet the needs of students with multiple ability levels who are in a single class setting, and how teachers can creatively collaborate are just a few that can be addressed.

Those in the social sciences can study the dynamics of a newly formed city to teach about theory and practice. In the first few weeks of the gathering, a map of the Oceti Sakowin camp was drawn with community areas defined, camp roads named, and specific features identified, illuminating the sub-communities within this larger community and raising questions about what makes a community, how social norms are established in this context, and how such norms are articulated and reinforced. Environmental science students can study the impact of the pipeline system that crisscrosses this country, specifically the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. They can also examine the fossil fuel industry and alternative, green energy sources. There is a solar panel unit providing energy to one of the camps, which offers an ecological energy solution as the camps prepare for winter. An Ojibwa long lodge was constructed, which has real-life lessons for building technology. Short-term planning is focused on the upcoming North Dakota winter. Long-term planning has begun in an effort to establish the Sacred Stone Camp—just a few tents only months ago—as a green community.

The opportunities for learning are endless, and failing to recognize and take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime event raises questions about our Indigenous higher education curriculum. Hopefully, we have not allowed our curriculum to become so tightly scripted to mainstream textbooks that we can only teach our students from a distance, rather than allow them to connect in a meaningful way. Teaching in our natural environment is far less controlled and relies on what doors open each day. Several Native instructors from TCUs such as Leech Lake Tribal College, Red Lake Nation College, and Little Priest Tribal College have visited the camps. Devery Fairbanks from Red Lake visited camp and then returned with students. He says, “We brought students to Standing Rock. Their assignment is to discuss how this all connects environmentally, politically, historically, economically, tribally, personally, and spiritually. It is a great opportunity for teaching, learning, and healing. Our young people, maybe for the first time, have their eyes open, and their consciousness raised.”

STANDING ROCK PROTESTER

Now is the time to stand with Standing Rock.

The bottom line is that this event, this community, this opportunity will not last as decisions will be made on the future of the pipeline and the protection of the water. This is truly a call to action for TCUs to capitalize on this gathering as an educational experience that will never again exist in our lifetime. It is critical to act now before this becomes only a memory. As the powwow eyapahas (announcers) are known to say, “Time’s a wastin’.”

Deborah His Horse Is Thunder, Ed.D., is the CEO of Wiya & Associates, LLC. Iris Pretty Paint is Vice President for Indigenous Knowledge Transfer at Kauffman & Associates, Inc.


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