The actions and protests against the Dakota Access pipeline could not have yielded success if it had not been for the participation of the Native American women water protectors as they took on a leadership role in the months-long protests in North Dakota against the oil project.
“Our people always believe that the women are the backbone and with our warriors back in the day, the women would meet first, then the guys would act on our meeting,” Char bad Cob, a member of the Lakota people and a water protector, told teleSUR from the encampment at Standing Rock.
“It is more important than ever that we stay and we stand and prevent the Dakota Access pipeline from going through.” Cob said, adding that what pushed her to join the action is half a millennia of “oppression and genocide” against the Indigenous people in North America.
She has been there since the beginning of the protests back in August but when people ask her how long she has been in North Dakota she proudly responds, “I've been here for 500 years through every ancestor who has suffered. This can't happen no more. Things have got to change.”
For Bernie Lafferty, a Lakota elder, the role of women against the pipeline is just as important as it used to be hundreds of years ago. “Like if the men went out and if they didn't come back, then the women had to defend your camps, you had to defend your children and the elders. And to me, that's how we are here.”
Women are the foundation of the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline, Catawba water protector Linda Black Elk told TeleSUR, echoing Lafferty’s sentiment, and adding that water protectors are there to protect the environment for future generations.
The action against the US$3.8 billion pipeline has attracted more than 300 Native American tribes from across the United States in a show of unity that is being called historic.
They said the project will damage burial sites considered sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and pollute the area's drinking water.
“In our blood memory, when something happens to the earth, when she's being dug into and extracted from, we physically feel that pain within our own bodies,” Kendi Mosset, a Lead Organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, told teleSUR, as protesters brave harsh winter conditions.
“So standing there watching them dig, as they did on Sept. 3 and Sept. 4 when they destroyed sacred sites. We couldn't just stand there and watch, we had to break down the fences and run out into the fields and stop them.”
The water protectors scored a victory in December when the Corps of Engineers decided to deny the route for the Dakota Access pipeline.
“I am from Standing Rock. As a child, I used to play along the Missouri River. It is 12,000 years old, and 17 million people benefit from it,” Waniya Locke, a Lakota water protector, said speaking her native language. “We are standing in opposition to the fossil fuel industry to protect the drinking water of 10 million people.”
After the victory, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe then called on those who are not locals to leave because it was hard for the tribe to accommodate the thousands of people who were there.
However, many worry that President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office in a few days, will reverse the decision and push for the completion of the project. The tribe asked people to come back after his inauguration in order to keep up the pressure.
Lafferty concluded by calling on people to keep supporting the Indigenous and native nations in their fight.
“Because we're not gonna give up. We're gonna stay here, even if it comes down to just a few of us, we are gonna still be here. And I just would hope everybody out there believes in what we're doing and supports us and prays for us, I guess that is all we would ask.”