WATERTOWN, South Dakota -- On May 8th, 2015 President Obama visited Watertown, South Dakota to deliver the commencement speech for the graduating class at Lake Area Technical Institute. During the President’s visit he was given a star quilt blanket made by Dakota artist DeVon Burshiem, a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. The blanket was commissioned by the school to be given as a gift in part of the graduation ceremony and to express gratitude for the president of the United States.
Unknown to the school and White House staffers, Mrs. Burshiem sewed the phrase “NOKXL” onto the back of the blanket before giving it to college staff. This subtle act was a means of demonstrating her opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, that is set to bully its way through Indigenous territory. The pipeline is currently waiting for a national permit decision by President Obama.
“Tasina Pezuta Win emakiyapi ye. (They call me medicine blanket woman). It was truly an honor and a blessing to know that the quilt I was making would soon be in the hands of the President of the United States, Barack Obama!”, said Burshiem. “Heartfelt prayers were made during that time, tears ran down my face as I prayed for our land and for our water, mni wicozani (water is life), without water we are without life. #NOKXL.”
Star quilts are one of the most valued gifts of the Oceti Sakowin, aka the Sioux nation. Giving a quilt to a recipient is a symbolic way to honor and protect that person on their journey through life. The star symbol itself represents the morning star, the guiding light in the morning for Oceti Sakowin people.
“Its obvious, from elected and traditional leaders to talented quiltmakers, the Oceti Sakowin stands resolute in its effort to stop Keystone XL,” said Dallas Goldtooth, KXL Campaign Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network. “We sincerely hope that President Obama takes note of Mrs. Burshiem’s message and the collective opposition against this dirty tar sands pipeline and rejects the permit outright.”
The tribes of the Oceti Sakowin, aka the Great Sioux Nation joined a large number of other tribal nations and organizations who together signed the Mother Earth Accord in 2011. This high-level document against KXL was presented to President Obama at the 2011 White House Tribal Nations Conference calling for the President to act on climate change and reject Keystone XL.