I am a settler on this land but have spent the past couple of years supporting indigenous battles against new oil pipelines. These are the front lines of the struggle to end the desecration of Mother Earth, the catastrophes of climate change, and the ongoing genocidal occupation of Indigenous lands that makes that all possible.
Across the continent, Big Oil is pushing a massive new network of oil and gas infrastructure, retooling in a desperate attempt to extract the dirtiest fuels on the planet and squeeze the last few drops of profit out of an era that clearly needs to end. Without exception, these projects threaten tribal lands, and without exception, they face bold Indigenous resistance.
A historic new chapter in this story is now unfolding on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Thousands of people from hundreds of tribes and First Nations have gathered in solidarity to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. I am one of the organizers helping to leverage resources and coordinate the campaign, and every day I hear from allies across the continent asking how to support the movement. Here is my advice:
Most people use social media simply to construct a public display of what they care about. Instead, use it strategically, as a tool for bringing more people into the movement and moving them one step deeper into it. Follow Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp on Facebook for great content. Lift up front-line Indigenous voices. Learn about theepidemic of sexual violence in the Bakken oil fields, and the historical context of conflict between Sioux Nations and the U.S. government. And always bring up the issues in person too—a conversation can be worth 1,000 likes.
Nascent political power exists in every group of people, every medium of communication, and every financial transaction. By all means, sign thepetitions, write letters to the editor, and contact your elected officials.Divest your money and explain why. But step outside the system too. We have forms of power that corporations and politicians don’t have. Pray. Dream. Create art.
Yes, we need money, we need supplies, we need food. Keep it coming. The best places to donate are the Sacred Stone Camp, Sacred Stone Legal Defense, Red Warrior Camp, Red Warrior Camp Legal Defense. But keep in mind that mountains of money and supplies are useless without teams of committed people doing the hard and sometimes thankless work of receiving, distributing, implementing, and maintaining things. What we really need is your labor, to transform money and supplies into something immediately useful to overworked, stressed-out people living in tipis. Instead of sending canvas, make a banner complete with grommets and ropes to tie it down. Pickle, ferment, dry, or freeze foods for winter. Come spend a week washing dishes and building winter structures. Contact email@example.com to coordinate your ideas with current needs.
As dramatic and inspiring as gatherings and actions like this are, there is absolutely no substitute for long-term, committed, strategic organizing. And some of the most important results of any campaign, whether electoral or direct action, are the new networks and relationships it builds. Wherever you are, chances are people are organizing supply drops and solidarity actions, mobilizing to stop other bad projects by extractive industries, and creating alternatives for a better future. Plug in. Meet new people. Find a role you can sustain long term. Yes, you’re busy—find a way to get less busy and create room for social justice work in your life.
This is not just about a pipeline. People from hundreds of tribes are gathering as never before, to stand together and demand an end to centuries of theft, violence, and oppression at the hands of the U.S. government. Those of us who are settlers on this land have all been complicit in some way. We can’t fix it, but we have a responsibility to acknowledge it and work toward a different future. How do we move forward, out of denial, through guilt, beyond words, and into action? The most powerful social change happens when our external struggles against political and economic systems are in rhythmic dialogue with the ones inside our own hearts and minds. When our movements are effective, they change us personally too. Solidarity is a journey. Keep moving. And don’t do it alone.
The rallying cry of the movement to stop Dakota Access has been “Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!” We all know this as biological fact, but most of us have not taken it on as a spiritual responsibility. I hear many non-Native people marvel at the deep reverence for Mother Earth, sense of belonging to the land, and responsibility to protect it that characterize many Native American belief systems. But these things were also a part of our own belief systems not long ago. Many of us surrendered them in exchange for the wages of whiteness. It’s time to reclaim them now. Where do you come from? How did you get here? How did your traditions foster a personal relationship to the Earth? What responsibility do you have to steward your own land base? The fact is, as a species, we are rapidly destroying our own habitat. What will it take to reverse that? What are you willing to lose? What do you stand to gain?
I invite you to remember that this is just a moment in a struggle that has been going on for centuries—and will continue for many more. We are allies, but it’s our battle too. There are as many ways to engage as there are people who drink water. Whatever you have to offer, we need it. Wherever you’re at, take one step deeper. Find your voice. Find your own front lines.
Thane Maxwell wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Thane is an organizer with Honor the Earth, a Native environmental organization led by Anishinaabe author and activist Winona LaDuke.