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Why I Continue To Stand Strong With Standing Rock [a cultural reflection]

By: Carlee

Since I was little, I have always felt close to my papa, even after he passed away. My papa was a proud member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and held his heritage close. In fact, he dedicated his career to Indian Education. He had a history with cancer and developed a malignant tumor on his liver in 2004. My parents had made it a point to spend as much time as possible with papa because his health quickly started to decline. Still, I just couldn’t fully grasp the idea of my papa leaving forever, until the moment I held his hand and said my last goodbye.

Now, I love to reflect on the cultural experiences I had growing up before my papa passed. The Powwows, the jingle dresses, the fry bread. Oh, how I LOVE the fry bread. I became familiar with my papa and his prayers and smudging. However, I did not grow up immersed in my heritage which made it difficult to fully embrace that part of who I am.

As a 20 year old, I now live on my own and attend St. Cloud State University. I jumped at the first opportunity to learn more in depth about my papa’s customs when I headed to college. I ended up doing some volunteer work with the American Indian Center on campus during my freshman and sophomore year. Eventually, the director at the American Indian Center offered me a position as a student worker, and I was quick to say yes.

The celebrations, events, and resources at the American Indian Center have expanded my knowledge of American Indian culture. Yet, I still struggle to find the resources, acquire my family history, and know what to research all on my own. I feel like sometimes I’m at a slight disadvantage because I didn’t have my papa to guide and teach me.

When I heard about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) controversies, I could emotionally relate to having something culturally special to you taken away. I couldn’t believe the disregard for American Indian culture, like their values and lifestyle were thrown to the back burner. My heart broke as I listened to the plans that Energy Transfer Partners had. They would be building an oil pipeline that would be traveling underneath the Missouri River, a water source used by Native and non-Native people. They would be digging into the sacred burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux as their families watched in protest.

Then, I was reminded of a moment in high school when my American History teacher asked the class, “Why do you guys think we teach history in schools?” I remember pondering this as the class discussed how we need to teach history so we don’t repeat our past mistakes. Since the 1500s, my ancestors have been deprived from their land, ways of living, children, language, beliefs, customs, and much more with deception and untruthfulness. We teach our children about how these things were wrong, like the boarding schools, the Trail of Tears, and the assimilation to European ways. Yet, Energy Transfer Partners is currently on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, taking just another piece of Native American culture.

I know what it’s like to have a piece of your life uncontrollably taken away, just as my papa was taken from me. I know he would have wanted to be with his brothers and sisters at Standing Rock, fighting for the right to their sacred lands and water. So, I decided to be the voice for my papa and raise awareness on this issue.

I participated in a donation drive and got to deliver the donations with a coworker. It was an amazing experience to see how the Sacred Stone camp worked in harmony. Everyone volunteered to take on the duties that needed to be done around the camp. Nobody was there to monitor what they can and cannot have or do. It was such a peaceful way of living and made me rethink how I deal with the stressors that awaited me back home.

I got to speak with amazing people who were eager to share their stories. They talked about how their grandchildren loved to play on the banks of the Missouri River, how they traveled long distances to support the Standing Rock Sioux, and how they have been at that camp for many months with their families. They encouraged me to belt out a “battle cry” on the top of the hill over the camp (and were quick to joke with me once I did). At the end of the trip, I got to listen their beautiful voices pray next to the river, just as I remembered from my childhood.

So, my heart is heavy to hear that the Army Corps of Engineers have intent to grant an easement to Dakota Access, LLC. I hope that our future generations will be able to utilize the Missouri River in the same way that we do. I hope that Native American culture will be more respected in the future, because I fear that the continuing depletion could lead to a type of cultural genocide. The fight is not over, and we should not get discouraged. Instead, we should continue to raise our voices even louder and stronger about why this pipeline is just another step back into our past historical mistakes.

As for myself, I pledge to keep a strong voice on all social justice issues pertaining to my Native brothers and sisters. I will do this in honor of my strong, courageous papa, whom I love and miss so very much.


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