What Sierra Said


Sierra and daughter Delali at the Cannonball River at the edge of camp

One of my Navajo cousins, Sierra, participated at Standing Rock with her husband and daughter September 16 through 18.  Recently I asked her to answer some questions about her experience.  I sent her a few questions and she graciously responded with this thoughtful gem.

The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline is not just an environmentalist movement – it the fulfillment of prophecies about the time and place we live in.  Those who cannot understand why it is unjust are usually missing the historical perspective of broken treaties and the very clear statement by the U.S. government that Native people do not get the same voice and treatment as big corporations. Time and time again, oil, gas, and mining companies have been given the go-ahead to destroy the resource-rich land we consider sacred (example: Black Hills gold rush, Mt Rushmore, still occupied treaty-territory). Land granted to tribes 150 years ago through treaties has been wrongfully sold to private buyers and companies. Often, companies lease the land needed to build their infrastructure. Over the decades, there have been many fights to protect our land and water, but this is the first time that technology and communications have allowed for so many to join the fight and share live updates. In addition, I would suggest that there is a new generation of Native youth who have the motivation for change that has been missing for some time. Native communities were intentionally dismantled and cultural life ways destroyed; it has taken generations for our families to begin to rebuild and see some open doors to healing and change. 

In that space, we as the original peoples of this continent can lead the charge for a more environmentally sustainable society. Our traditional teachings hold the wisdom of relationship with the earth, rather than dominance over it.  Indigenous people are beginning to find that we have a strong voice, and that we have allies in the broader community who are also ready for wide-spread change in the face of global warming, resource depletion, and a troubled society.  It is my belief that the United States will come face to face with its own self-destruction sooner or later.  We cannot continue to consume our resources (and others’ around the world) without consequence.

When I traveled to Standing Rock in September, the front lines were relatively quiet.  It was a weekend, and there were no construction workers in sight. There had recently been attacks on the water protectors by private security with dogs, but over a week had passed since then.  I was most surprised by the spiritual focus of the camp. All action and decision-making is being led by spiritual leaders through prayer and ceremony.  What the activists are doing when they go to the construction sites is praying for societal change, safety, and healing of the earth and all people – including those who persecute them.  It is a truly beautiful environment to be in. In a common gathering area, there is near constant activity through dances, announcements, gift presentations, and speeches. The common purpose of the camp creates a sense of solidarity and hope that I have felt very rarely elsewhere. 

Everyone in the camp displays an attitude of acceptance and friendship (a common Lakota phrase “Mitakuye Oyasin” means “we are all related”). However, there is also a strong sense of determination and urgency for change. People like me have had enough of the mistreatment and ignorance of the indigenous struggle to survive.  Through my work here in Saint Paul, I am constantly faced with the harmful impact of war, genocide, boarding schools, discrimination, and systemic oppression over the last 500 years. With strength in numbers, we are showing up to say to the world that we are still here, we will fight to defend the sacred, and we are re-claiming what you (the colonizers) have not cared for. 

Another oil pipeline is only making the way for Americans to continue in their consumerist lifestyle without regard for future generations. Yes, we benefit from the convenience of oil-dependent means of transportation and even technology that is built by mining earth’s resources.  But what we are saying is that the time has come to change course, to move AWAY from fossil fuels and TOWARD clean energy, renewable resources, and environmental preservation. 

Sierra plans to return to Standing Rock later this month.

Thank you, Cousin, for sharing your story and perspective and for being a strong voice for your people and our shared Earth.

Sierra’s resource recommendations for further involvement:






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