February 10, 2017

Taking Native People’s Land, Then and Now

Quotes from the front lines of the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline

By Christine Lashaw, Experience Developer

With contributions from Claudia Leung

For centuries, Native Americans have resisted attacks on their lives and their lands. The struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline is the latest chapter in this long and bloody history. Calling themselves water protectors, the activists hope to ensure that the Standing Rock Sioux’s sacred lands in North Dakota and the drinking water of millions will stay safe from drilling and oil spills. History Now, a new installation in the OMCA Gallery of California History, compares the past with the present through an historic artifact, and contemporary quotes and photos. OMCA staff asked Joey Montoya, a Lipan Apache from the Bay Area, to visit Standing Rock in November 2016 and interview indigenous protectors there. Here, they share what they would tell their children in 20 years about what’s happening today.

“History always has a side, and that’s this side, because it involves everybody and not greed. It involves respect and dignity, but never profit over people.”—Xochiacatl Lopez, born in Guanajuato Mexico, resident of Salt Lake City, Utah

“Mother Earth is sacred, she’s our life giver, she gives us all our tools to be able to survive. Everybody coming together to defend that is very special because we’ve been so put down over the years, and enough is enough. We’re not going to be treated this way anymore. We know what's right for our land because we’ve been protectors of this land and we feel that responsibility. Others don't see that, others don’t care about that because they have lost that feeling of connection to this earth. We stand for our water—it is our first medicine—our body is 80% water and that says a lot, a lot about us.”—Siera Begaye, Diné (Navajo), Arizona

“Standing Rock is the continuation of the fight my ancestors fought against the colonization of natural resources and the taking of indigenous lands. It’s the continuation of that fight and I hope they pick up where we leave off.”—Ray C. Yazzie, Blackfeet/Yupik/Diné (Navajo), Browning, Montana

“I will tell my children about Standing Rock and how Natives came together for the first time in a really long time. It was a rebirth or a re-ignition of that fire within all of us, and to now have a platform that is being heard and felt around the world is so strong. As Natives we have it in our blood, within our knowledge and our culture to protect the land.”—Malia Hulleman, Kánaka,Maoli, Hawai’i

“It fulfilled a prophecy, not only with the Lakota, but also spanning across all Native nations. The Diné and the Hopi talk about Rainbow people coming together. Being here witnessing it, I feel very privileged to see the gathering that has happened. I feel like that’s just the beginning.”—Lehi Thundervoice Eagle Sanchez, Diné (Navajo) Nation in Arizona & Aztec tribes in Mexico

“It’s truly powerful and empowering to see all nations come together and support. We see people from Europe and Asia and South America, Africa—all walks of life. Even through what people have been through, everyone keeps a smile on their faces and keeps empowering one another. Most important of all, it is to reinstate the power that we have, that what was given us, the sovereign rights of every tribal nation, not only Standing Rock but all the Nations in the US.”—Kelly Bedoni, Reed people of the Folded Arms Clan & Monument Valley Utah, Navajo Nation

“I’m here at Standing Rock with family, and being here I felt like my family has expanded. It’s pretty simple why we’re here; it’s to protect Mother Earth. Once this goes, what’s left? Where can we go? We have to save what’s here for our children and grandchildren and all the future generations, and I hope we’re successful. I hope we can revert what’s been done, and help create a better world.”—Gladys Morgan, Ho-Chunk Nation, Wisconsin

“I’m 23 years old and in twenty years I hope to tell my children that for the first time in United States history, our government upheld the treaty rights of the Native American tribes and that they won’t have to fight to protect the environment because of the efforts that have happened here in Standing Rock in 2016.”—Calina Lawrence, Suquamish

“Our Lakota people have been on reservations less than 150 years and that is not a long time ago, that is not ancient history, that is recent history. These are memories that we have and that run through us. It’s important for us to always be sharing our history as it happened and to continue moving forward with our children. Our stories are alive, and what is happening right now at Standing Rock is alive. This memory is a living memory that we’ll share.”— Ann-Erika White Bird, Lakota, Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota

What would you do if there was a pipeline being built on your sacred ancestral land? Tell us in the comments below.