On Thursday afternoon, Kiva Club members held a demonstration on campus protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline on campus and saying it would hurt the communities the pipeline would run through.
Hundreds gathered outside the SUB in a show of solidarity with the protesters who have amassed on Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota over the past few months in protest.
Construction of the $3.8 billion, 1,135 mile-long oil pipeline has been met by what many are calling the largest multi-tribal American Indian protest in recent decades.
“There hasn’t been this much tribal solidarity since the Battle of Little Bighorn,” said Demetrius Johnson, Kiva Club president. “When I was (at Standing Rock), there were over 100 tribes represented, but I heard, recently, that there are now more than 200 different tribes supporting this.”
Construction of the proposed pipeline, which would span four U.S. states from Illinois to North Dakota, involves the alleged desecration of sacred American Indian burial grounds, in addition to crude oil passing underneath the Missouri River just north of Standing Rock Nation, thus place several communities’ only access to clean water at risk.
“This isn’t even just a tribal issue,” Johnson said. “This is an environmental issue, this is a human issue, this is a life issue. This is protecting our life, protecting our nonhuman relatives’ lives. This is huge, and if this oil pipeline does get built, and oil does flow through and it bursts, it’s going to be catastrophic.”
Concerns of this nature are hardly unfounded, as history can attest. In its first year of operation, TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline sprung a 21,000 gallon oil leak in North Dakota, TIME reported earlier this year, amid coverage of April’s 17,000 gallon oil spill in South Dakota.
Marching from the SUB to the intersection of Central Avenue and Cornell Drive -- right outside the UNM Bookstore -- protesters brandished signs reading “Protectors, Not Protesters,” “No Blood for Oil,” “We Stand with Standing Rock” and “We can’t drink money, #WaterIsLife.”
Johnson said social media was instrumental in organizing the demonstration, the idea for which was suggested by an advising professor just two days prior. The event “blew up” on Facebook, he said.
Melanie Yazzie, a doctoral candidate in American studies and co-founder of The Red Nation, said this issue dates back to the middle of the 19th century, when the Army Corps of Engineers claimed ownership of the Missouri River, dispossessing thousands of Lakota and Dakota people.
“76 years later, we’re now facing the repercussions. Our relatives are finally standing up and fighting back,” she said. “We have strong traditions of resistance, we have strong traditions of solidarity and working across difference as tribal people to resist the death drive of those systems which seek our demise.”
Dakota Access’ purchasing of necessary water rights from the Army Corps of Engineers is an illegitimate dealing between private and colonial entities, Yazzie said.
“That’s why you’re seeing this groundswell of support,” she said. “This isn’t just some sort of flash mob or trendy issue; we’re actually making history.”
During the protest on campus, protesters were informed that North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple has activated the National Guard ahead of federal district court decision, on Friday, that will decide the immediate fate of the Dakota Access pipeline.
“It just speaks to the strength of our people, even though (the government) is trying to intimidate us, we don’t give a s---, we’re going to do what we have to do,” Johnson said. “If they want to come at us again, well, you’ve got the whole world watching you.”