Letter: #NoDAPL and the struggle for Native rights

Joe Catron/Flickr

Joe Catron/Flickr

To the Editor:

The Dakota Access Pipeline is the latest chapter in a long war of colonial violence against Native Americans – a war that has been ongoing since first contact and largely waged without interruption.

The pipeline has created a groundswell of resistance, bringing together the largest coalition of native tribes in over 100 years, led by members of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.  Beginning in April, the self-identified Water Protectors have formed two camps, Sacred Stone and Red Warrior, to oppose the construction of the pipeline and defend their right to self-determination.

The movement on the ground has made it clear: This is the final straw, and they are not going anywhere. The camps, and the global #NoDAPL solidarity movement they have spurred, have coalesced around the rallying cry of indigenous leaders: Mni Wiconi, or “Water is Life.”

As a group of students committed to climate justice, UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign recognizes that as we take action against the climate crisis, we must center the struggle of those who have been marginalized by the social and economic systems responsible for its creation. This must include the ongoing struggle of Native peoples against cultural and environmental genocide at the hands of the corporate American state. Climate change and the greed of the fossil fuel industry threaten our collective futures, but frontline communities have been waging this struggle for hundreds of years and are facing its violent realities today.

This disparity is illuminated by the fact that the Dakota Access Pipeline was originally proposed to run through the water supply for the predominantly white community of Bismarck. After it was determined that this posed risks to that community’s water, the pipeline was redirected through Native lands, sacred burial sites and water sources. Pipeline construction began in violation of federal treaties and without meaningful consultation from tribal governments or a full environmental impact analysis.

Today, the Standing Rock Sioux express the same concerns as the residents of Bismarck, yet they are being confronted by an increasingly militarized police force and are being arrested en masse. The local Morton County sheriff’s office, along with federal and corporate security forces, continue to attack the nonviolent resistors with rubber bullets, attack dogs and pepper spray. Native voices are being silenced, not heard.

This demonstrates the reality brought to the forefront of public consciousness by the Movement for Black Lives that the police mantra of “protect and serve” does not, and has never, applied to all populations. The police are an agent of discipline and erasure, upholding the principles of settler-colonial capitalism that our nation was founded on.

We must reckon with the ways this erasure is happening in our local institutions and communities: Native American student enrollment at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst has almost steadily declined for 17 consecutive years. In our conversations of climate change and social transformation, we must listen to and elevate the voices of indigenous peoples in our communities. We must constantly question whether and how they are being represented in our institutions.

Our solidarity with the Water Protectors at the Sacred Stone and Red Warrior Camps is first and foremost about supporting the fight for self-determination, sovereignty and survival. We hope to mobilize this conviction this Friday, Nov. 4th, from 12 to 4 p.m. when the Native American Student’s Association and Divest UMass host a #NoDAPL Solidarity Farmer’s Market on the Goodell Lawn. There will be an arts and crafts sale, performances by local artists and a “speakout” featuring the voices of Native professors, students and activists. We hope to raise money and consciousness while collectively standing in solidarity with the movement led by the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies in North Dakota.

The Water Protectors on the ground at the Sacred Stone and Red Warrior Camp have made a call to action to allies all over the world. The Five College Community can answer this call by donating directly to the camps and by coming to the event on Friday, as well as continuing to spread the word and hold local actions for the #NoDAPL resistance.

Together, we must shut down this pipeline and highlight the long-marginalized voices and experiences of Native Americans in their ancestral homeland.


UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign and the Native American Student Association