A Nez Perce woman ceremoniously burned a dried braid of Sweetgrass as a bystander looked on, licking the glue to seal his ballot.
Students, tribal leaders and activists gathered on Monday on the Todd Steps to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), using signs, speeches and chants.
Since the Standing Rock Sioux Native American tribe began protesting in August, people from around the world have joined. The proposed 1,100-mile-long pipeline would run through Native American burial grounds and across the Missouri River, from the Bakken oil fields of Northwest North Dakota to Southern Illinois. It would end near the beginning of the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline, owned by Phillips 66, a stakeholder in the DAPL.
Protestor Kyra Antone wore a beaded necklace her mother gave her; bright, geometrically patterned moccasins; and a blue I’itoi, or Man in the Maze, medallion. She said the Tohono O’odham people consider this symbol sacred, the blue representing water.
The earth protects its inhabitants, Antone said, so they should return the favor by stopping oil from potentially contaminating water. Protecting river water from potential oil leaks was one of the demonstration’s main goals. Multiple pipelines, such as the Enbridge Pipeline and the Hiland Crude Gathering System, already move hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil across the Missouri River daily. The DAPL would transport about 450,000 barrels across the river every day, according to Energy Transfer, the majority stakeholder of the pipeline.
Antone led a chant of “mni wiconi,” which means, “water is life,” in the Lakota language.
“Water is life and we all depend on water to live,” said Eduardo Castañeda, an organizer of the event. “Water is a universal issue.”
She went to North Dakota in late September with a few other students to bring supplies and show support.
“We left as soon as all of our classes were done on Friday,” Antone said. “We drove straight through all the way to North Dakota.”
Hundreds of protestors have been arrested since August because the demonstrations take place on privately-owned land under easement, according to The Associated Press. An easement is a contractual agreement to allow an entity to cross land without owning it. Under easements, property owners are entitled to compensation.
The DAPL’s easement would be up to 100 feet wide in certain parts while under construction, the final width being 50 feet, according to Energy Transfer.
Demonstrator Matthew Sutherland drew a parallel to past damming on Native American lands and this year’s spillage from the Colonial Pipeline in Alabama. He said public servants have not actively fought the construction due to campaign donations from oil companies.
“We must be loud at the ballot boxes,” Sutherland said. “Louder than the jingling change in the politicians’ pockets.”