Speaker shares story of Standing Rock protest movement

February 8, 2019

Jennifer Weston, a professor at UMass Boston and a member of the Lakota Native American community, shared the story of the Standing Rock protest movement in a lecture on Wednesday.

Weston, who is a researcher, writer and producer focusing on issues concerning the Native American community, has worked for the past 20 years on various language restoration projects, which includes his time as the Director of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.

Weston came to speak on Wednesday as a part of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Colloquia Series to shed light on the history of the Standing Rock protest movement, how youth organized different Native American communities to help delay the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction and how the protests unfolded on the ground and in the media.

Weston recounted that with the consent of the state government, the developers of the Dakota access pipeline chose to redirect it from North Dakota’s capital, Bismarck, through Standing Rock, N.D. This decision initiated protests from the Native American communities living on Standing Rock lands.

In response, these groups came together to organize and curtail the project. Weston recounted how the tribes and community at first tried to rely on past Native American treaty agreements with the Federal Government in lawsuits and other legal proceedings but were met with their efforts being ignored.

So, in response, youth members throughout the different Standing Rock communities sought to organize a larger protest movement rooted in tribal rituals, which included group prayer, the building of teepees and other native practices.

It was important that this protest movement was rooted in these traditions because the land of Standing Rock is particularly sacred to the different tribes that inhabit it and key to their survival. The land contains sacred burial grounds and worship sites.

Weston said that the youth oriented their protest tactics around tribal practices to emphasize the importance of Standing Rock as a piece of earth that they are connected to. One youth group ran together all the way from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. with their tribal eagle staff and worked to receive over 100,000 signatures against the pipeline’s creation.

West recounted that over the course of the protest over 10,000 people attended and that 800 arrests were made. She said that the Native American protesters received “an egregious misrepresentation” in the media for being violent and dangerous despite them sticking to their tribal practices.

Though the pipeline was halted by the Obama administration just days after his election, President Trump gave the go-ahead to the company in charge of creating the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners.

“I firmly believe that I’ll live to see the day when this pipeline permit expires, and our community will participate in its removal from our community territory,” West said. “I think this is a temporary victory for the fossil fuels and the extraction industries in this country. In our communities, we have to take the long view because we are educated and grounded in ceremonies that our families have been practicing for thousands of years, and the events that happened this century and in the previous one are very much temporary circumstances.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, Religious Studies Program, America Studies Program and the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University.

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