Over the last few weeks, protests near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota have gained national attention. Native Americans from around the country have gathered to block construction of an oil pipeline they say would disturb sacred lands and burial grounds.
Members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in central Michigan were among those who joined the protest. Autumn (Ellie) Mitchell was a member of the group who traveled to North Dakota earlier this month. She spoke with Amy Robinson
(Mitchell) I could see history happening and this gathering of tribes and I just I just felt the need to go. I didn’t even question it was just I was going to go.
(Robinson) Explain why this is important to the culture
(MItchell) Because water is life. That is the motto of the camp and there’s potential disaster from oil spills and this pipeline is going to, I mean it could affect the Missouri River and many many people drink from the Missouri River, that flows into the Mississippi. That is a big issue and you know water’s a big issue for all people
Anishinaabe believe women are the keepers of the water and protectors of the water. So it was just important to be there into standing in unity with other tribes, other nations.
(Robinson) What was the feeling being in that group of people
(MItchell) When we walked in the camp, I felt like we had gone back in time and we were in the village before the reservation era like it was amazing feeling. If you had actually you brought it up to the donation tent and if you needed something you went up there and got it. I was helping sort clothes for part of the afternoon and people were coming up who had come with nothing but the clothes on their back and we were just helping them find shirts and shoes and socks and doing what we could. I mean I grew up on the reservation in a tribe, I have a pretty strong sense of community, but that was intense even for me.
(Robinson) How much good do you think it’s doing to have this group of people and, not only of course the core group, but so many coming from outside to to support?
(Mitchell) This action, I think it’s really good for Indian country That we’re putting aside our tribal affiliations and coming together and having this peaceful, prayerful there was so much ceremony going on there and it felt so sacred. I think it’s a good experience for youth especially with all the struggles that we have that they can see that in that unity.
(Robinson) And so we have another chapter in American history of a group of determined, united people trying to protest actions of a large corporation. You know how do you think it’s going to end?
(Mitchell) I hope it ends in favor of the people. When I was there I heard that those who started the protests and started the camp saw, the spirits told them when they had ceremonies, that if they stayed peaceful they would win.
(Robinson) Do you have plans to go back, or hopes to go back?
(Mitchell) I would like to go back, but I think I can do more for the cause staying at home and supporting the people who are out there. Making donations and getting the word out and trying to help with the larger issue that is environmental issues and dependence on oil and tribal sovereignty.
(Robinson ) This also has really put Native Americans in the native culture on the national stage.
(Mitchell) I think it’s it’s good for people to see us as still existing and still being here and still being active and not living in the past or living in the modern stereotypes of alcoholics with no jobs. That’s not who we are.
(Robinson ) What kind of movement is there locally to support this larger effort?
(Mitchell) One of the men who traveled with us is going back and we’ve been trying to send him with supplies. They’re digging in for a winter and need cold weather gear.