August 2020

Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vi Waln: Winyan Ituwan Women of Vision

Winyan Ituwan holds first of four gatherings
by Vi Waln
Lakota Country Times Editor

PAHIN SINTE OWAYAWA – “This is a collective effort to bring women together to share experience, wisdom and vision; our Earth Mother needs us to stand up for her to be a voice for these young girls to walk in our path,” stated Pte San Win, one of the organizers of the initial Winyan Ituwan gathering. “We hope to inspire and encourage you to go home with lots of information for your family.”

Topics discussed at the gathering revolved around the desecration of Mother Earth and water, as well as mining issues facing the people living on the Great Plains of the United States. In addition, the traditional roles and responsibilities of Native women were presented. Over 200 people attended.

Lorraine White Face prayed with her macaw feather fan and blessed everyone with sage smoke. Opening prayer was offered by Esther White Face. Singing a beautiful opening song were duet Tianna Spotted Thunder and Autumn Two Bulls.

“Each and every one of us is special. Faith, hope and love will make a better generation for all of us,” stated Marie Randall. “As women we all carry the water of life and we must care for ourselves because of the children. We must have the courage to change because the gifts that were given to us by Tunkasila are suffering. I encourage all of you to teach the children to love and respect one another. I am not afraid to be Lakota.”

“Water is the first medicine,” stated Cordelia White Elk.

“Tunkasila gave us the guidance to do this,” Debra White Plume stated. “We want to share the love we have for Unci Maka, we are trying to live in a good way.

The power comes from love, the work we do comes from our love of Lakota ways. Pine Ridge has been fighting uranium mining being done south of us. We have challenged their right to mine uranium because we have scientific evidence that the mine site near Crawford, NE is linked to our drinking water. We have been fighting North Trend for 7 years now. We use water in every single ceremony. This is the same water that was here when the dinosaurs were here; it is our duty and privilege to fight for drinking water. These are issues that are genocidal to our people. If water is contaminated where are we going to get water for 50,000 Oglala? What about water for our horses and other animals?”

“We never started out to fight the biggest uranium mine under Cameco; we started out trying to find out why things were happening to our people. It doesn’t matter who tests the water, the results are always the same. We have to fight for the water to keep it clean and keep it good. We have to speak up, we have to take action. They may have a lot of money but we have a lot of love. There can be no more desecrating of Unci Maka; we are going to defend our sacred water. It’s hard to be Lakota because you have to stand up. Our courage is greater than the corporations and government who want to take our water.

“The Keystone XL pipeline expansion will cross the Lyman Jones Rural Water System in many places. It will cross the Mni Wiconi Water System in two places. We are trying to teach our non-Indian allies to call Earth our Mother instead of a planet,” stated White Plume.

The Keystone XL pipeline expansion consists of a 1,912-mile pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas. The proposed project could transport up to 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands crude per day right through the Ogallala Aquifer which supplies drinking water to over 2 million people and countless animals, trees and plants. National lawmakers have used their power of politics to force President Obama to decide by February 21 if he will sign the permit needed for TransCanada to build the pipeline.

“Even in the 1800’s geologists in the area already knew what was in that land,” stated Tantoo Cardinal, a Cree actress who grew up near the Athabasca oil sands. “Everything that had to do with our culture was outlawed. I saw people who lived a life of strength off the bush. The outlawing of language and ways was an attempt to sever our connection to the Creator. This made us mean to each other too. When I was young we would go on berry picking trips and we could get our water out of the lake. Our children aren’t going to know that. Now, 10% of the fish coming out of the water are abnormal.”

“The people who come to Fort McMurray have no love for the land, they come for money. Even though we had no ceremonies we had medicine. There’s medicine on that land. A woman from Yellow Knife has medicine to doctor AIDS. There is medicine to doctor AIDS in that land they are killing. We were right from the beginning. Our treaties were established because we know our Mother. We have the blueprint. We have to discern who are allies are, defenders of the Earth come in all colors. In that knowing, in that teaching is where the women stand. Women’s place hasn’t been respected. The Earth is being treated the same way women are being treated.

“Sands are the grit that wears and tears on that pipe,” Cardinal continued. “All we have had are lies from this civilization, so why would they start telling us the truth now?”

“In 1947 the US Government built a dam,” stated Kandi Mossett, a Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikira tribal member who is currently employed with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “We were forced into a cash economy; it was like walking through door never to go back. When women eat mercury contaminated fish it affects our bodies. We are always told that we can’t eat the big fish we catch in Lake Sakakawea anymore. There are many flares or giant candles of natural gas now. Many tribal members were paid $34 an acre for their land versus the $5,000-$6,000 an acre paid to non-Indians.

“Now, every single place you go you see trucks hauling water in and hauling water out. Many people have died in head-on crashes with the trucks. It’s all for oil mining. It’s wrong. The tribally elected leaders at Fort Berthold are not my leaders. Women have to lead, let us show you how to lead. A Tribal Environmental Code was just passed last year. There are many open valves. There are 2,500 chemicals in that fracked water that leaks out of the valves on the trucks. Tribal police have no jurisdiction over the truck drivers. People are getting money now and they are happy because we’ve been poor for so long. Drugs are coming in worse than they were before. We need to stop it at all costs.

“Why should you care what is happening on Fort Berthold?” Mossett asked. People need to care because “it’s affecting you down here. Green water found in Lake Sakakawea was said to be a blue green algae bloom which is toxic.” Also, leakage that “cannot be seen with the naked eye but infrared cameras shows the constant smoke coming from pipes and those round storage tanks along with frack trucks around the reservation. People are not dumb. People just became complacent. I survived cancer when I was 20 years old. I refused chemotherapy, I refused radiation. There’s so much to fight for an as long as I have a breath in me I am going to go anywhere to lift people up. Forget the Keystone XL pipeline; we are going to kill it. As long as there are little kids running around we are going to fight.”

“Kandi Mossett is my hero,” stated Phyllis Young, a newly elected tribal council representative at Standing Rock. “She inspired me to pass legislation against fracturing. Demonstrations are significant; we need to have an Occupy Wall Street type of event in the Black Hills. We have the Standing Rock directors working to beef up the regulations we have. We are also trying to prohibit horizontal drilling. I have been on the tribal council for two months and we will do everything we can to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.”

“What is it going to take for activism in Indian Country?” Madonna Thunder Hawk asked. She is currently working on Indian Child Welfare Act violations in East River South Dakota. “Check the website for documents about the Department of Social Services. Lean on your tribal councils because they have to make child welfare a priority. Not one tribe in the State of South Dakota has made child welfare a priority. Kids are kept in the system for the money. They are drugged up and then when they age out they dump them back into the Indian community. I’m hoping there will be younger women who will pick up this fight.”

."I love my people,” stated Regina Brave who is also a long-time activist for the Lakota. “This whole country still belongs to us; I want you to remember that. They want to build Keystone XL through here because they called this a sparsely populated area. We have farmers, ranchers and processing plants. 75% of the groceries people take for granted come from this sparsely populated area. We have a right to protest and shut down TransCanada, we have to stop it. We are a nation fighting for survival. 2012 is the beginning of a whole new era for Indian people, it’s time for women to stand up and start fighting. We waited for a long time for this to happen where we could stand together and fight.”

“I believe this is an historical gathering,” stated Faith Spotted Eagle. “We have a responsibility to recreate societies. In 1994 we revived the Brave Heart Society. We have to build these young women. There are 90 girls scattered across the country that have been through the Isnati ceremony.”

Brittany Poor Bear, a Brave Heart Society member, offered a prayer for the wamakaskan.

Russell Means’ recent bout with cancer “was a powerful and humbling experience,” stated his wife Pearl Means. “But the power of our ancestors and spirituality is hard to express. We are downwind from North Dakota which is where the largest strip mining in the country is taking place.”

Other speakers included Arlette Loud Hawk who spoke as the Whip Bearer for the Tokala Kit Fox Warrior Society. Troy Lynn Yellow Wood talked about the roles of women. Special guest speakers included Alex White Plume, Russell Means, and Lily Mae Red Eagle.

Winyan Ituwan is a collective effort to bring women together to share experiences, vision, and wisdom. There were many door prizes including propane and other gifts. Winyan Ituwan is the first of four women’s gatherings, with one set for spring, summer and fall. People can call 605-899-1419 or connect at Winyan Ituwan on Face Book for more information.

“Each of us has power in our thoughts and in prayer. When we think and pray in a good way that is what we add to the atmosphere,” stated Cardinal

Russell Means and Alex White Plume
Photo Vi Waln.

Debra White Plume: A Thread in the Beautiful Fabric of Resistance

Photos by Vi Waln
A Thread in the Beautiful Fabric of Resistance
by Debra White Plume
Censored News

Water is finite, and sacred. “Mni wicozani”, through water there is life. We must drink clean, nourishing water to live. Just as Mother Earth is made up of a lot of water, our human bodies are 70% water. That is why at Full Moon, and the tides change, some human beings have strong, unpredictable behavior. To our Lakota people, mni (water) is our first medicine, our first home. There are entire spiritual and social teachings that we learn as we grow up, our Lakota World View about water. Mni is our relative, and Lakota Law compels us to protect our relatives. Mother Earth is our relative.

This belief led our organization Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way), which is involved with cultural preservation and revitalization, Treaty Rights and Human Rights, to begin looking at disproportionate cancer and diabetes rates on the Pine Ridge Homeland. This research took us places we never thought we would be! We examined air and water quality studies, which led us to the Cameco, Inc. in situ leach uranium mine 30 minutes from our southern border. We learned that ISL uranium mining contaminates an incredible amount of water, on a daily basis. Cameco was up for license renewal and had submitted another application to open a second mine. We researched that process, and found we could submit interventions, based on science and law. We did that, and are now plaintiffs in the case against Cameco’s ‘right’ to poison our water. That was 7 years ago. This work continues.

Water protection work requires constant research, in doing so I learned about the tarsands oil mine in First Nations Territory in the Athabascan River Basin where Ft McMurry is, in Canada. Learning about that mine and its’ impacts to Mother Earth was mind jolting, so I began to speak out more about this horrendous desecration of Mother Earth and our First Nations relatives. The tarsands oil mine is decades old, and has become the dirtiest mining operation in the world. The corporations snuck in decades ago, fooling elected leaders into signing contracts of extraction, contracts that are resulting in increased forms of rare cancer, people are dying, so are fish, moose and other animals that the people depend on for food. It has become a food issue. Will it become a famine issue? The pristine Boreal Forest is being clearcut, the Amazon of the North is being destroyed, millions of birds and other animals have died, species have become extinct. The mine uses 3 to 4 barrels of pristine drinking water to create 1 barrel of oil, each day. It creates so much green house gases, the output can hardly be measured.

Studying the tarsands oil mine led to the discovery of TransCanada corporation’s intent to build and operate the Keystone XL oil pipeline from the tarsands oil mine into Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas where it would be refined and shipped out to who-knows-where. We learned the KXL oil pipeline was three feet in diameter, thin, and would high pressure slurry the heavy crude oil that had to be heated to 150 degrees F to liquefy it enough to push through that pipeline. There is a union worker who turned whistle blower when he was fired for declaring the pipe defective, which corporate workers would re-tag as approved. He gave up a lifelong career. I met him in DC.

The pipeline would cross our Rural Water pipeline, which transports drinking water from the Missouri River, 200 miles away, to our communities on the Pine Ridge. The KXL pipeline would cross 200 lakes and streams and rivers. It would be buried in the Ogllala Aquifer, which irrigates 30% of the food grown in the USA, and which provides drinking water for 2 million people, and for cattle, horses, buffalo and other four legged. Trans-Canada would use a lot of drinking water to mix with that heavy crude. Sacred and social teachings about water propelled me into devoting more and more time into fighting the life and death situation that this oil pipeline had become. I knew the threats to our ground and surface from uranium mining, and learning about this oil pipeline taught me that it threatens our very lives, for where would we get enough drinking water for the 50,000 Oglala Lakota people on the Pine Ridge when the pipeline spilled or leaked? Who would care enough to do something about it? The technology does not exist to clean up this kind of heavy crude. No pipe has been created that does not leak or spill.

Friends from the Indigenous Environmental Network contacted me, and we began a dialogue about water protection, contamination, a number of other topics. Tribes along the pipeline route took action to oppose the pipeline. Every Native Nation organization in the USA raised their voice to say No. I decided to go to Washington, DC to participate in a Senate Briefing Hearing, and meet with the State Department officials about Ft Laramie Treaty violations and violations of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations in 2007. I traveled with others to Pierre, SD to testify at a State Dept hearing, but was not able to, as I was number 152. I saw drunken union workers testify about how they needed a job welding. They mostly came from out of state.

Then my family and I decided I would go to Washington DC. I participated in a civil disobedience direct action, trespassed at the White House and got arrested, along with 1200 other people who wanted to help get this issue into the minds of mainstream America and the attention of President Obama. There were a dozen of us Native Nations people who were arrested. The Lakota people on Pine Ridge hosted Tom Weis, who rode a solar powered bike from Montana to Texas to raise awareness along the KXL oil pipeline route. We hosted a Rally for Mother Earth in Pine Ridge, and a march. We hosted a Ride for Solidarity with ranchers, farmers, Lakota people, and an American movie star, Darryl Hannah. We had radio shows, wrote articles, attended events. Next thing I knew, I was on the Tour of Resistance, I flew 10,000 miles in 5 weeks. Halfway through, I lost my hairbrush, my comb, and only had one sock. Good thing it was almost over by then! On January 15, a group of us Lakota people hosted Winyan Ituwan, a women’s gathering with the focus on Mother Earth and Sacred Water, with guest speakers including Kandi Mosset of IEN and Tantoo Cardinal, a Cree movie star from Canada. All to raise awareness and resistance to uranium mining and the KXL oil pipeline and the tarsands oil mine, and protection for our sacred water.

Nebraska started out to protect the Ogllala Aquifer, but became involved in negotiations to allow the pipeline in along an undetermined route. South Dakota GAVE KXL $30 million in tax breaks to come here, Montana made concessions as well. However, individuals and groups got involved, big time. Environmental groups, many other civic groups, thousands of people on both sides of the Canadian/USA border spoke with the same voice, STOP THE PIPELINE. Nobel Laureates, Native Nation and First Nation Chiefs and Presidents, scientists, retired military, Olympic Medalists, Senators, Congressmen, actors, writers, students, people from all walks of life raised their voices and risked their freedom to stop the pipeline. Rarely did USA’s mainstream media cover any of this, but in the little towns and small cities, local newspapers and radio shows did. Word got out, numbers of resisters grew. The last time I went to DC, I spoke at a rally of 15,000 people, we circled the White House 4 times. People came from all over, to speak with one voice. We made friends and allies.

Nebraska politicians had a special hearing to allow KXL to come in, but the White House heard the message to protect the Ogllala Aquifer. Then TransCanada pushed the USA to make a decision, and elected politicians lifted their voices to support the KXL, attached a new bill as a rider to a jobs bill, gave the White House 60 days to let KXL in or to reject the pipeline as against the national interest.

On January 18, 2012, the State Dept and President Obama rejected the pipeline, as 60 days was inadequate to conduct environmental impact studies. However, TransCanada can still apply for a new permit.

Each of us who worked on this life and death situation, we are a thread in this fabric of resistance. Folks wrote letters, gave speeches, cooked food, wrote emails, tweeted, did FaceBook postings, made banners, pitched in gas money, made tshirts, made phone calls, did research, made copies, stood in line to testify, got arrested, lobbied Senators and Congressmen, babysat, loaned out their cars, offered a couch or a spare room, musicians/artists doing pro bono benefits, shared frequent flyer miles, took pictures, raised money, it was truly a collective action to protect our water and Mother Earth.

There is no one person, nor one organization, that stopped the pipeline, this victory that may be temporary, this partial victory, as the tarsands oil mine is still operating. It was the love of the many, for Mother Earth and coming generations, the many prayers and sacrifices that gave this movement its power. I believe love is stronger than greed. I believe that people working together can be just as effective as the world’s richest corporations. I believe Mother Earth wants to live, and we cannot live without Her. I believe our Lakota prophecy, “Someday the Earth will weep, She will cry with tears of blood. You must make a choice. You help Her, or She will die. When She dies, you too will die.”

All over the world, events are unfolding, 200 tornadoes in two days last summer? Earthquakes and shakes where there have been none for hundreds of years? Floods? Droughts? All common weather events, but uncommon in the repeated occurrences or place of occurrence. Every summer has been hotter than the last since 1996. Mother Earth is telling us something, She is crying, and She is rising. Crying Earth Rise Up! Whatever befalls Mother Earth, befalls the people of Mother Earth. Such a struggle is made up of many, many threads, together we form a beautiful fabric of resistance, and protection for our Mother, Mother Earth.

The last time we left DC, my friend and I saw a huge red tailed hawk, he swooped over us, and over the White House, and he flew to the west. The day of Winyan Ituwan Winter Gathering, we saw a bald eagle circle over us, and he flew off to the West. Sacred messages ... if we listen, we can hear, if we hear, we can understand. When we understand, we give thanks. Lila wopila iciciyapi. Hecetuye.

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