There has been much celebration in the wake of Obamas decision to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, but there are a few things that should not be overlooked going forward. The roots to this movement are well beneath the surface of what most people recognize and they stretch back for centuries. They are spiritual, even mystical, and they belong to the families whose ancestors have lived here since long before this land was called North America. Long before there was a need for environmental movements, indigenous people lived with a deep reverence and respect for the natural systems that sustain all of life. These people are still with us today.
Faith Spotted Eagle is a 65 year old grandmother who lives on Ihanktonwan Dakota Territory (Yankton Sioux) in Southeastern South Dakota. She is a fluent speaker of the Dakota Language and a member of the Ihanktonwan, although she descends from the Sicangu, Hunpati, Hunkpapa and Mdewakantonwan and has French/Irish blood through her grandmother Julia Deloria and John McBride. She has two children. Kip Spotted Eagle is a Dakota Language Instructor and Brook Spotted Eagle is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Washington in Cultural Anthropology. Her new grandson is Tokana Ikpanajin Spotted Eagle.
I have had the pleasure to work with Faith and many others to inform people about the Treaty to Protect the Sacred and the Keystone XL battle. This morning I received a message from her saying that she has some important reflections from her community about the recent Keystone XL decision by President Obama. She speaks with the nurturing strength and wisdom that only a grandmother can possess and It is an honor that she wanted to share them here with us.
After the KXL “not in the national interest” words finally were actually said, I had a couple of days to pause and then I came to several realizations. While numerous groups were counting coup on stopping KXL and telling their understandings of how the victory was achieved, my thoughts were immediately directed to other things that now could receive attention.
Yes, there are at least 100 other things that are threatening our existence as Indigenous people and it’s back to defending the front line, like we have been doing for 500 years against ongoing threats. That is the story of the life of a Native. Every single day of our life is devoted to fighting fights like KXL. So it is familiar territory.
I am not needing to say that I was the one who stopped KXL but I am feeling the need to give thanks to the SPIRITUAL MOVEMENT that was launched in treaty territory, original territory and the Oceti Sakowin and the First Nations up north. The Spirit was moving strong due to the thousands of prayers that were heard by the universe and beyond for Mother Earth, entwined with the healing prayers of other populations.
The difference in this fight echoed in my mind with the words of my dear father Henry, who long ago said: “you know my girl, in the years to come there will be more “Ska Oyate” defending our lands with us when they have more knowledge and will rebuild memory of the spirit of this land”.
He said it would take a couple hundred of years as they heal from their historical trauma also. I am thankful for the allies that we have gained from the “Ska Oyate” the White Nation and other immigrant populations, as we continue to challenge marginalization and privilege. When they heal, we heal. Together.
As we reflect on President Obama’s decision, we must tell our own narratives of how we view this intersect in time. Too much of our history contains narratives of us by other people, as I already see articles stating that someone else organized us natives for the KXL battle. I don’t think so…
Although the prayers laid by the IDLE NO MORE movement greatly inspired us. The battle was for a larger purpose, as our elders have prophesied the war on water for decades and the coming “shaking of Mother Earth” which is happening now.
Our movement was led by “spiritual activism” as we offered tobacco and prayers for every step forward and backward. Ceremonies were held constantly in almost every Native community across Turtle Island to be mindful of the “spirit moving” activated by the common purpose of protection of sacred water, land, and the generations to come.
Another very old camp circle principle that surfaced was “activism by consent.” In the Native world we don’t just appoint ourselves to lead a movement. We are given consent based on our respect, our actions towards our relatives and our people. Whether that was elected leadership based on colonial tenets or grassroots organizing, old conflicts and divisions were laid aside to commonly defend against a major threat to sacred water.
The message had to be (and is) unified. There were checks and balances that we don’t need to write about in an article, but it is comforting that they are still there. There is actually no word for activism in our tribal languages, it is just our responsibility of being a “good relative” to the earth and those dwelling on it.
Nation to Nation dialogues and joining occurred in sovereign ways. This includes the signing of the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred at Ihanktonwan Territory by the Ihanktonwan Treaty Committee and the Tsu La Letuth Nation as well as the Mother Earth Accord. Ten Native Nations have signed the International Treaty and many others with the Mother Earth Accord.
The Lummi Nation brought their Sacred Totem Poles to pray with our “bundles.” The First Nations of Grandmother’s Land up north exchanged strategies, guidance, laughter, ceremony and presence with those of us in the southern direction. The heads of the Pawnee Nation and the Nez Perce showed up to stand strong with us when we walked out of an attempted Department of State consultation that was out of order.
When the DOS reported on it they called it a “demonstration”. It was an assertion of our right to be respected as Nation to Nation parties and that we would not allow ourself to be manipulated. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman mobilized locally, regionally and nationally to work in unification with the grassroots, the Treaty Councils, the Women’s and Men’s Societies.
The Oceti Sakowin, Seven Council Fires of the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota, individual tribes and other tribal nations provided support for gatherings, events, ceremonies and direct actions. Three Spiritual Camps were created at Rosebud, Lower Brule and Cheyenne River, preparing to defend on the ground. Grassroots entities such as Brave Heart Society, Oglala Tokalas, Owe Aku Moccasins on the Ground, Pte Oyate Ospaye, Wiconi Un Tipi and many others hosted direct actions in cooperation with Honor the Earth, Ruckus, Chorus Foundation, Brave Heart Society and many others. There is much thanks to also give to Ojibwe and Dine’ Waterwalkers, A.I.M. Members, and all who marched, prayed, cooked, and supported in every possible way.
The first Spiritual Camp was held on the Ponca Trial of Tears at the Art Tanderup farm. These spiritual camps were a door for youth to become involved and speak of their concerns. These camps were attended by other Turtle Island defenders such as the Black Mesa Coalition, the southern defenders against Tar Sands, the activists fighting the Bakken Oil presence and of course, the Indigenous Environmental Network was invited in by the Oceti Sakowin.
At all of these gatherings, children were always present… watching, learning, speaking, praying and helping… for the future. Spiritual leaders, both men and women were always present to maintain the balance, including the Keeper of our Sacred Bundle, Arvol Looking Horse.
— Disrupt Dirty Power (@DisruptAction) March 11, 2012
Elders like Marie Randall who is in her 90’s, from Wanblee, SD stopped KXL trucks to communicate that this is serious business. Urban Natives joined with their reservation counterparts in hosting demonstrations, banner drops and forums against KXL. Tribes of the Oceti Sakowin joined with Dakota Rural Action to form NOKXL Dakota to combat Transcanada in direct actions, horse rides, summits and to battle Transcanada in the SD Public Utility Commission hearings. There are so many more and I apologize for leaving anyone out. In summary it was a Sovereign Nation movement all across Turtle Island and it was successful!
From the beginning, the goal was to utilize the new weapon of social media, widespread public outcry and strong defense of treaty and unceded lands (original territories). The opposition was always about jobs, jobs, jobs which is second nature to systemic capitalism. Our approach was “traditional technology” (prayer, ceremony, direct action, which are the original bio-instructions from the earth).
As Deksi Vine Deloria said, “to be Indigenous is to be of place.” Our culture actively draws on the power of our sacred sites and their power physically and spiritually. It is Native metaphysics which is why we do ceremony. The solution to climate change is how we live in relation to all living things and redefine our technological niche in nature with respect.
Many in the movement against KXL rejected “philanthropic capitalism” and fought back sometimes without funding, depending on grassroots methods of survival. Philanthropic capitalism is being funded to do someone else’s philosophy, which often conflicts with grassroots earth philosophy. Some funders are now learning this and we appreciated their support.
As this is being written, a SD Public Utility Commission hearing is being held on another threat, the Dakota Access Pipeline which once again is trespassing in Treaty and Aboriginal lands in northern and eastern SD and North Dakota. A dream team of tribal attorneys representing Cheyenne River, Rosebud, Cheyenne River and Yankton are battling in the PUC process against the two pipelines, KXL and Dakota Access. Even though the Presidential Permit has been denied for Transcanada’s KXL, the SD PUC is insisting on having the hearings continue on whether Transcanada should receive a permit through SD for KXL.
Lastly, in any blessing received by Indigenous people, it is essential to have what we call a “wopida or wopila”, which is a giving of thanks to restore the balance for gifts received. This is why of course, that tobacco is always offered to the spirit world. The Allies and Pipeline fighters did this of course, at the invite of the Sicangu Oyate (the Burnt Thigh people) of Rosebud at Wicokahiyiya (middle of the day) this past Saturday, November 14, 2015 at Mission, SD.
Now we return to the list of the 100 things to defend against, including the recent bill introduced in Congress to assume plenary power of tribal recognition led by congressional people (one from Utah) who have no inkling of who we are. As former Chairman Brewer said, our horses are always ready and we must defend on this one. Tunkan Inajin win , he miye ksto!!!
-By Faith Spotted Eagle, Tunkan Inajin
The battle against Keystone XL was an unprecedented collaboration to protect the land from extractive industries that threaten our water, air, and delicately balanced climate. Yet there is still much work to be done. If adopted, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), will allow corporations to sue governments for enacting environmental protections. If TPP were law right now, corporations could overturn the Presidents decision to reject Keystone XL. Now we celebrate, tomorrow we actively face these challenges together with strength, grace, and compassion to do what’s right for future generations.