We rise, for water, for life

IssueOctober - November 2016
Comment by Penny Stone

We rise, for our brothers, for our sisters.
We rise, for water, for life.
We rise, for one nation.
Protect our water,
Protect our land,
Protect our people.

[Mass chanting at Standing Rock Spirit Camp, led by a young Sioux woman]

The Dakota pipeline is being planned and constructed to pipe oil from the Dakotas to Illinois, in the USA. The Standing Rock Sioux and other First Nations of the Americas are supported by environmental groups in stating that this pipeline would damage the environment. They are also making clear that sacred sites are being endangered through the building of the pipeline.

I don’t need to remind PN readers that the Native peoples of America have already been occupied, murdered, interned and oppressed by those Europeans who landed on what we now call the Americas. And in today’s world for indigenous people, wherever they’re from and whoever came to be the dominant cultural group in countries that were drawn around them, most have become de facto second-class citizens in their own lands.

But at the Standing Rock Spirit Camp, Sioux and many other First Nation people are standing together in opposition to the pipeline. Standing Rock Resistance Radio says it’s no longer a camp, it’s become a village.

A young Ojibwe singer, Matene Strikes First, wrote this song in solidarity with the struggle:

We won’t stand for more oil lies,
Let the sacred water be life
standing rock we stand with you tonight.

When asked to describe the protests, Kandi Mossett of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes of North Dakota explains that they are not protesters, but rather protectors. ‘We are protecting our extended family,’ she says, not just the people but the water, the animals and the land as well – those who do not have their own voice. We do not view them as resources but as part of our extended family.

‘Women are the ones breaking down the fences and running in front of bulldozers. Women are the ones locking arms together with babies on their back because it’s that desperate. It’s that urgent to protect life.’

She begins her explanation of these actions by singing a song, and she ends by singing a song. In the same way that all living beings are considered part of her extended family, so music and song is an extension of her own life and cultural expression. This is all part of a radical difference in perspective.

Even Amazonian tribes from the South of the continent have come to join with their distant cousins in the fight against the ‘black snake’ oil line. They recognise that although they are physically far away from this oil pipeline that we are all endangered by the continued impunity of big business as it desecrates land, and that the continued plundering of the Tar Sands oil reserves will only speed up the global environmental crisis.

In September, the Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young released a song in support of the protectors. He makes a play on the phrase ‘Indian Giver’ which is a historical and deeply racist phrase used in America to mean someone who gives a gift and expects an equivalent gift in return. He uses it to describe the US government’s compliance with treaties.

Down by the riverside

Also in September, Standing Rock chair Dave Archambault II took their fight to the UN human rights council in Geneva, stating the complete failure by the US government to abide by treaties made with his tribe as well as the environmental danger of building the pipeline ‘under the river that is the source of our nation’s drinking water’.

Bird Songs are sung by visiting Morongo Tribes People at Standing Rock. Impossibly well-timed shakers keep the beat whilst four strong male voices sing of land and people as non-separate beings. And around them people stamp their feet, feeling energised and supported by their song and their strength as the camp, the village of protectors, grows.

‘Share the news’, say the people at Standing Rock Spirit Camp. ‘Don’t let us be silenced by the mass media.’ What can we do but amplify the voices of those making a stand? So they sing, we must sing, making the links between people and land, between music and life, and building the bridges between the many peoples across these lands.

Topics: Culture
See more of: Radical music