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Native American Student Association and UMass Divest raise money for DAPL protesters at Farmer’s Market

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Erica Lowenkron/Collegian

Erica Lowenkron/Collegian

The University of Massachusetts Student Farmer’s Market outside of Goodell Hall on Friday drew around 200 people showing support for the members of the Standing Rock Sioux protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This event at the Farmer’s Market, which was organized in a collaboration between the Native American Students Association and Divest UMass, featured T-shirts, prints and handmade items being sold alongside the usual collection of vegetables to benefit those protesting at Standing Rock.

A speaking portion of the event began around 1:50 p.m., and UMass Associate Professor of Anthropology Sonya Atalay connected the conflict over the Dakota Access Pipeline to a history of Native American erasure.

“What’s happening in North Dakota is not a new Indian story,” Atalay said. “It’s a really old story and I’m getting really, really sick of it.”

Atalay, who began her speech by acknowledging that the University of Massachusetts is historically located on the land of the Norwottuck tribe, mentioned how the town of Amherst is named after Jefferey Amherst, who gave smallpox blankets to the Norwottuck people of this region.

Atalay encouraged people to think of ways to challenge the construction of the DAPL through direct action, mentioning how the first time she saw it on CNN was when people began to protest banks in New York City who are supporting the pipeline’s construction.

The pipeline will be constructed to pass through Native American burial grounds, Atalay said, adding that this constitutes an illegal and unconscionable insult to the ancestors buried there.

“When (the pipelines) break they need to dig holes that are 30 feet wide and larger, and they uncover ancestral remains,” Atalay said.

Paulette Steeves, a lecturer and interim director of the Native American studies program, emphasized that oil pipelines are constantly under pressure and will all eventually break, resulting in a poisoning of the land.

Steeves called the construction of the DAPL through Native land a treaty violation, as the pipeline would go through unceded territory affirmed in the 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty as belonging under control of the Oceti Sakowin.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitted this pipeline through treaty lands. It wasn’t necessary for them to do that,” Steeves said. “That is a very violent and aggressive act.”

Steeves called images of water protectors, the people protesting against the pipeline’s construction, handcuffed and with bags over their heads “unbelievable,” and condemned police officers for shooting them with “rubber bullets the size of golf balls.”

She also encouraged the members of the audience to think about ways to live that do not feed a demand for oil.

“I walk to and from home every day, seven miles,” Steeves said. “I’m sixty years old. Now you don’t have an excuse.”

Faye Alkiewicz, an Amherst resident who is a member of the Nunatsiavut Government in Labrador, Canada, encouraged attendees to buy from the vendors and benefit water protectors, or to find a talent they have and use it to help the protesters at Standing Rock in some way.

Conjuring descriptions of the impact the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills had on their environments, Alkiewicz said the DAPL will jeopardize the Missouri River because of their closeness to one another.

“The water we’re trying to protect, it isn’t a trend. This is not a fashion statement, this will effect generations,” Alkiewicz said.

There was an interlude between the speaking events in which Urban Thunder, a Boston-based inter-tribal drumming ensemble, performed for the crowd. All of the money they raised was donated to help water protectors at Standing Rock.

Divest UMass organizer Mica Reel said the donations and purchases at the Farmer’s Market were going to benefit the legal fees fund for arrested protesters, the Sacred Stone and Red Warrior Camps, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fund.

Andreus Ridley, a senior studying non-profit administrations, is the president of the Native American Student Association, and said he appreciated Divest UMass’ consistent concern with making sure indigenous voices would be central at this event.

While climate change is an issue that effects all people, Ridley said, it is important to make sure that attention is also being focused on the ways it more immediately effects certain people.

“The more urgent reality is that the treaty is not being honored,” he said. “The government needs to recognize that agreement these people have made.”

Ridley, who is of Penobscot and Wampanoag heritage, said that although a small number of people at the Standing Rock Reservation started the fight against the DAPL, it is benefiting millions of others whether they realize it or not.

As a part of a greater society and UMass, Ridley said that he thinks a turning point in Native American issues has been reached.

“Sometimes I worry,” he said. “Enrollment has declined for 17 consecutive years here. The numbers I see say there’s 27 of us out of 22,000 [enrolled students].”

James Frank, a senior BDIC major who is a Divest UMass organizer, said holding this event at the Farmer’s Market worked as a way to potentially educate people unfamiliar with the situation at Standing Rock, and just about picking up their farm shares.

Frank said that the issue at hand is more about the erasure of Native Americans and battling against white supremacy than a general fight against white supremacy.

He added that he thought if people were shown videos of “Native Americans (at Standing Rock) being maced, terrorized and attacked by dogs” it would spark more interest among the general population of the United States.

“I think the lack of coverage on behalf of news media corporations and the support government and state officials are giving to law enforcement to silence this movement is disgusting,” Frank said.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.

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