Indigenous Women Are Standing Strong
Women are leading the way at Standing Rock to protect the waters of North Dakota, and bringing forth a global indigenous spiritual and ecological movement, which honors the integral health and respect of the Earth and people.
"Sacred Stones Camp was begun by women, as a prayer."
A group of Lakota Sioux women from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, including LaDonna Bravebull Allard, established the Sacred Stones Camp in April by the Cannonball River in North Dakota to protest the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline through their land and water supply.
The crude oil pipeline is being built through sacred lands, burial grounds and medicine harvesting sites, and is a continuation of the abuse of human rights, treaties, and nature.
Water & Oil
The Cannonball River is a tributary of the Missouri River, the longest river in North America, and the pipeline has already been laid close to the shores of Lake Oahe, a dammed off section of the Missouri River which is the water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux, as well as for millions of other people.
The Dakota Access Pipeline would carry 440,000 gallons of fracked crude oil a day through the pipeline from the Bakken Formation, which reaches through parts of Montana, North Dakota and Canada.
The pipeline was supposed to pass the Missouri River just to the north of Bismarck, but due to the concerns about potential oil leaks polluting the drinking waters of the state capitol, it was rerouted south through land delineated to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, thus putting the risk directly on the tribe's immediate and only water supply, as well as the water for the millions of people downstream.
Prayers for the Protectors
My heart and prayers are with Standing Rock and the Water Protectors who are calling for a halt to the Dakota Access Pipeline which not only threatens their water, but it runs through land that was illegally taken from them.
Through these challenging times, it is easy to wallow in feeling helpless, angry, upset and appalled at the abusive treatment of the indigenous people and water protectors, by militarized forces protecting corporate fossil-fuel interests, that is aggressively using violent tactics against women, men, elders, medics, youth and horses.
This is what indigenous people have been dealing with for hundreds of years, and this monumental gathering of indigenous people from over 300 tribes coming together in prayer and unity is an incredible demonstration of resilience, connection and the power of people to stand up for what is right.
"It’s people who are gathered together in prayer and unity and coming together for the first time, really, in history. This is a historic moment for tribal nations to come together like this. We’ve got people who are historic enemies camping alongside each other, learning to live together and be together in this space...
Private security uses dogs and mace on Native American women and children protecting sacred sites being destroyed right in front of them, while North Dakota police are watching. People are out exercising their first amendment rights and being met with militarized response in incredibly dangerous situations: guns drawn, mace, planes flying overhead...We hope grassroots media gets the real message out, that we’re gathered here in unity and prayer to stop this from happening.
- Tara Houska, National Programs Director for Honor the Earth
Women Leaders for Healing the Earth
Standing Rock is an unprecedented movement of people from global tribes and backgrounds coming together to stand up in prayer for the Earth. This is happening because of the strength and commitment of many dedicated women who have started and sustain these efforts.
The healing of our waters and earth has a new feminine spiritual leadership, that is guiding an ecologically focused partnership model of living.
“One of the most beautiful things I feel right now, is that you see these amazing, empowered women who are stepping up and really reminding us young men, and men in general, that our role is to let the women lead, and yet, we’re their protectors and we stand side-by-side, but the women are supposed to lead with their hearts.”
The strength of the women supporting this movement is inspirational. They are honoring and bringing awareness to how protection of the waters is intrinsically connected to the protection of our food, herbs, women's wisdom, birthing wisdom, children, communities, Earth, and sustainable living.
Women's Health & Ecology
Many midwives, herbalists and healers have traveled to Standing Rock to set up health clinics and support for the camps. Women healers are speaking up about the vital nature of traditional and sacred reproductive health care and birthing support for women.
"Sovereignty for indigenous people is only going to come about through the support of women and women’s health, in the same way that we defend and protect Mother Earth is the same way that we need to defend and protect women and the next generations of children being born."
The first baby was born at Standing Rock in September and has been named Mni Wiconi, meaning Water Is Life in Lakota, also the words seen all over Standing Rock and that express the heart of this movement. She was born naturally without medical assistance, a sign of great blessings upon the camp. New birthing tipis have been constructed for the more expected babies to come.
In the heart of the sacred lands under attack, new life is coming forth, dedicated to continuing the protection of water and health.
The Energy Fueling Sexual Violence
What's happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline is a continuation of the abuse and violation of the rights and health of indigenous people which perpetuates both the raping of the Earth and women.
"The way we treat the earth is inseparable from how our society treats women."
The Bakken formation in North Dakota, as well as other sites of extreme extraction, have become lawless "man camps", which are already hubs for violence and sex trafficking of women, girls and boys, particularly affecting the indigenous population. This is well documented in a submission to the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on "Extreme Extraction and Sexual Violence Against Indigenous Women in the Great Plains."
In North Dakota, extraction from the Bakken deposits has increased over 300 times since 2006, and human trafficking and violence has similarly risen in the state.
Many indigenous women have been forced into prostitution or become victims of trafficking, and there is inadequate funding of the Tribal police and legal system to combat the influx of criminal activity led by national and international drug cartels due to the labor camps.
Uniting for the Earth & Health
It is so important to pay attention to how women's leadership and health are integral components to the Dakota Pipeline opposition, and how environmental racism impacts indigenous women disproportionally.
Women are strong, women are healers, and will keep this movement going forward. Midwifing a healthy future for all the generations to come is a sacred path that women and men from all backgrounds are called to.
The connections and movement that is happening at Standing Rock is creating new relationships among global tribes that will support all future stands against fossil fuels and the destruction of sacred lands and health.
There will continue to be prayer, the grandmothers and elders will always remember the sacred ways of healing.
No matter how much of traditional ways has been lost, the time is now for rebirth.
People are coming together at Standing Rock, to protect the water and indigenous rights, and in the process have created a model sustainable village with schools, kitchens, wind turbines, solar panels, health clinics, birthing spaces, ceremonial circles, and are sharing wisdom for sacred and sustainable living.
Water is the "first medicine;" it sustains us in our mother's womb, Spotted Eagle says. It's used in ceremonies to heal people. The steam it gives off in a sweat lodge, for example, purifies. Water can clean a spirit when it's bleeding. It can calm a person and restore balance.
Water is healing.
Through the protection of our water, we can find a way to bring healing to the earth, to people, and spiritual feminine leadership is bringing light to the way.
Mni Wiconi - Water is Life!
Photography by Jade Beall
Jade Beall is a mother and world-renowned photographer from Tucson, AZ, creator of A Beautiful Body Project, and dedicated to celebrating truthful images of women's beauty. Find her work at: www.jadebeall.com
Cover photo of Dona Lyn, from Southern New Mexico, facilitating support, prayer and ceremony on the front lines of Standing Rock.