Courtesy Jose Ventura
Runners in front of U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Native American youth are at the helm of a protest against a 1,168-mile long pipeline that would threaten their sacred land and drinking water.

Native American Youth to Obama: 'Rezpect' Our Water

Tara Houska

On Saturday, a 2,000-mile relay run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. culminated with dozens of Native Americans singing and marching in front of the White House.

Thirty Native youth from the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) traveled to the U.S. Capitol seeking to stop construction of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline will send 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day through North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, and Iowa. The 1,168-mile long pipeline is set to pass through the Missouri River, less than a mile upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation.

Opposition to the pipeline project has been fierce – Native environmental protectors have been camped directly across from one of the construction sites at the Camp of Sacred Stone since April of this year. A massive media campaign, “Rezpect Our Water,” was launched to tell the stories of the youth that will be impacted if and when the pipeline leaks. The cross-country relay run was part of this campaign.

Singers in front of The White House in Washington, D.C. Courtesy Ray Yazzie.

One of the young runners is Jasilyn Charger, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who made her first ever visit to Washington, D.C. in January of this year as part of the Our Generation, Our Choice demonstration demanding justice on race, climate change, and immigration. The young leader told ICTMN she made the long run to Washington, D.C., to “protect our water and to protect our rights.”

Three federal agencies, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, all called on the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for approving the Dakota Access project, for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Army Corps declined.  

“It’s a system designed to let things slip through the cracks, but it’s up to us to hold our government accountable. Our land is in danger, as well as our identity, but we will not stand in silence,” Charger said. “We are rising from this dilemma and uniting nations that have been separate for generations. We must take advantage of this chance to make a change.”

Citing concerns about the contamination of the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in its request for a full EIS, the EPA recognized that the drinking water system serving Standing Rock is only 10 miles from where the Missouri River crosses Lake Oahe.

On Monday, the Army Corps provided the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe with a 48-hour notice that construction would begin at the Lake Oahe Crossing.

Speaking to ICTMN as the caravan of runners returned to North Dakota, Bobbi Jean Three Legs, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, summed up the importance of their journey saying, “Water is life.”

“Without water we would all perish and suffer. [We must help] people understand who we are as indigenous people and why Unci Maka is important,” she said.

A preliminary injunction to halt construction while the lawsuit brought on behalf of four tribes is litigated is scheduled for August 24.

In the meantime, a legal defense fund has been started to assist those willing to risk arrest against the pipeline.

Warriors are welcome, organizers said.

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