Three young activists from Serpent River First Nation have returned from North Dakota, where they helped block pipeline construction on traditional lands where Sitting Bull was shot dead in 1890.
Just as Sitting Bull led a resistance that defeated Lieutenant Colonel George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the North Dakota resistors succeeded last week in persuading the U.S. Department of Justice to temporarily halt construction of the four-state, $3.8-billion pipeline on federal land.
"There's something that called to us," Quinn Meawasige said during an invited presentation to a weekend gathering on St. Mary's Island about the 1850 Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior treaties.
"We started to see a lot on the Facebook news of our brothers and sisters, the Sioux in North Dakota," Meawasige said.
"They were standing together. We heard that there were tribes that came together that haven't been together over a hundred years. I was told they were not protesting, they were standing to protect the waters."
Serpent River and uranium
Serpent River has long struggled with the effects of uranium mining on its territory and drinking water, and Meawasige and his friends felt strongly that their ancestors would have answered recent requests for support from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
True to his Anishinaabe name, which means 'Stallion Standing In The North,' Meawasige said he had no choice but to answer the call.
So the Serpent River trio sought out moral and fiscal support from people like Métis artist Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch, fourth great-grandson of Chief Shingwauk.
Carissa Daybutch from Mississauga First Nation joined them travelling to the resistance camp on the Cannonball River in North Dakota.
It took 18 hours of driving over two days.
The Algoma partisans arrived on Aug. 28 and stayed until Sept. 3.
"When we got there there were 25 teepees and over a hundred tents," Meawasige said.
"There was a gathering of nations, of warriors, of land defenders who were willing to put it all on the line to protect that water. They were willing to go to jail. They were willing to die for that water."
"They didn't want it to come down to violence and they said: 'We're peaceful. We want to do this in a peaceful way. We want to make sure we're constantly in ceremony. We acknowledged that we were in a very sacred place.'"
Attack dogs, pepper spray
On their last day in North Dakota, things started to get ugly.
"There were dogs that were brought in as intimidation tactics. There were people that were pepper-sprayed. Children, grandmothers, women, sons, daughters."
Meawasige, who turned 22 last week, believes in the Anishinaabe teachings about thinking seven generations ahead.
"I took advantage of the Great Lakes," he conceded.
"I didn't think about the wealth, this beauty that we have here because we have so much water. Out there [in North Dakota] they were very limited with their water."
"These governments and these corporations don't understand how important this water is. It's up to us as Anishinabek to stand and to spread that message to everyone that water is life."
"When we pollute our waters, it's almost like we're hurting ourselves. We kill the water. It's like killing ourselves, because we're part of water," adds fellow Algoma activist Preston Pine.
National chief participates in round dance
"Pray for our relatives out in Standing Rock," Meawasige told the weekend gathering in Sault Ste. Marie.
"We had to come back home and bring that message back to the people."
Meawasige led a round dance on North St. Marys Island to honour the Standing Rock Sioux.
The dance was videotaped and a copy is being sent to North Dakota.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations participated in the dance.
"We're all part of the land. We're all part of the water," the national chief told SooToday.
"I think if people start recognizing that from a First Nations perspective and our world view, we'd be better off, because we say we're the two-legged tribe. We don't see black, white, yellow, red men or whatever. We're the two-legged when we go to ceremony and that's why it's very important that the chiefs are calling for ceremony for prayer."
"We're calling on the Creator. We're calling on those grandfathers that sit in the east, west, south and the north. And Mother Earth and all of our grandmothers that help us, to give us that guide, that peace, that harmony, that courage to find ways to work together."
"When we start talking about oil and gas and pipelines, if it's cutting through traditional lands and territories and waters, as indigenous peoples we say we have rights, but we also have responsibilities. One of the biggest responsibilities is to protect the land and water."
"We have to do that not only for ourselves but it's for your children, your grandchildren, and my children and grandchildren and future generations yet to come."
"It's about finding balance and finding that peace. It takes courage to do that."
One week ago, Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers called for the lighting of sacred fires in every community in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The National Guard was called in by North Dakota's governor in advance of a court ruling on the project last week.
On Friday, a U.S. Federal Court judge turned down a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe request for an injunction to block the controversial pipeline.
The following is the full text of a subsequent announcement from three departments of the U.S. federal government:
Joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued the following statement regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act. However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain. Therefore, the Department of the Army, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior will take the following steps."
"The army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved - including the pipeline company and its workers - deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe."
“Furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects. Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals."
“Finally, we fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely. We urge everyone involved in protest or pipeline activities to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. Of course, anyone who commits violent or destructive acts may face criminal sanctions from federal, tribal, state, or local authorities. The Departments of Justice and the Interior will continue to deploy resources to North Dakota to help state, local, and tribal authorities, and the communities they serve, better communicate, defuse tensions, support peaceful protest, and maintain public safety."
“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”