Mni WiconiA Culture of Resistance
I am a Native American from the Chehalis Tribe in western Washington. Growing up on the reservation has shaped the way I see the world and my place in it. I have always known that I come from a culture of resistance. The rights, freedoms, and very life that I have today I owe to the struggles of my ancestors.
In September of 2016 I was watching a story play out on Facebook. The story was that of the Standing Rock Sioux’s opposition to the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline would transport oil through the tribes treaty lands, treaties that have not been honored. It would destroy places the Sioux hold sacred, and threaten the health of the the Missouri River a water source for 18 million people downstream. This courageous opposition inspired many tribes from around the country to come and stake their solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux; including my own Chehalis Tribe. I watched as my fellow tribal members and our most important leaders climbed into vans towing coolers full of salmon to bring to the Standing Rock camp. I saw live streams of my family members cooking and preparing salmon for the people, unfurling our tribal flag and staking it proudly with the other indigenous nation’s flags. This act moved me to put my life on hold and make the trip to Standing Rock with my husband and brother. We heard several Northwest tribes were going and had plans to do a coastal style paddle on the Missouri river. A coastal canoe journey involves large, mostly wooden ocean going canoes that hold 8-12 paddlers. A route is picked and all the canoes travel together paddling and singing songs. At the landing destination, many people gather on the shore to do a welcoming ceremony. After the welcoming ceremony a protocol takes place at camp which is a sharing of songs and dances. At large events protocol has been known to last 24 hours a day for days on end. We strapped my bother’s fishing canoe to the top of our van and headed to North Dakota to take part.
When we arrived at Standing Rock we were put to work right away. A urgent need to do all you can to fight the pipeline know as the ‘black snake’ is felt by everyone at the camp. Every person contributes to the cause, and our days were packed with organizing and working. We participated in direct nonviolent action, in prayer ceremonies, in marches, we sang songs, we paddled, we prayed, we built, and we listened. Our prayer ceremonies were met with an unbelievable militarized police presence, a presence that would escalate after our departure to horrific violence against peaceful people.
During my visit to Standing Rock my camera was with me. Everyone who see’s these photos can touch a window into the culture of resistance that Native Americans are born into. The images contribute to a visual representation of the cultural awakening among Native people happening today. I am empowered by the act of Native people controlling our own image, and narrative. I am grateful to contribute in this way.
Resistance has an important role to play in America today. I feel as though Indigenous wisdom can help us to form a much needed perspective of human’s place on mother earth. Native Americans can help forge a righteous path for willing people to follow to a more just world for all humans. This is my inspiration in creating this imagery.