Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Native American youth finding hope in fight against Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines

Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline (Canadian Press graphic)
Native American youth have found a calling in the fight against the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, Saul Elbein reports for The New York Times. Like many Native American reservations, among the 1,300 Lakota people of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, there are high rates of youth suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and violence.

Lakota youth formed a group called One Mind Youth Movement – which was originally created to suppress the suicide wave – and joined the fight against the proposed pipelines, which have the support of President Trump, Elbein writes. They campaigned against the Keystone XL pipeline, "whose route would cut under the Cheyenne River just upstream from the reservation that bears its name. After the Obama State Department denied the Keystone XL permission to cross the U.S.-Canadian border in November 2015, they moved their focus to the neighboring Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, to join the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline," which would "move half a million barrels of oil a day beneath the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux, which is one of the cousin bands to Cheyenne River."

"The youth came to believe that the Dakota pipeline was not only a threat to their drinking water but also a harbinger of the larger environmental crisis their generation was set to inherit," Elbein writes. The youth group leaders say, "as important as the idea of the safe space was the idea that activism would teach children the skills to survive more immediate threats, like bullying and drug abuse. They hoped to pass on skills at the camp that they themselves had been taught by Keystone activists in their community."

Dakota Access Pipeline
(InsideClimate News graphic)
One Mind also organized a 500-mile relay run "from the Sacred Stone Camp to President Omaha to deliver a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking it to deny the Dakota Access Pipeline permission to cross the Missouri River," Elbein writes. Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) "began a social-media campaign announcing the run and organized a blitz of calls and letters from tribal members on various reservations."

IEN also paid for One Mind members to be trained as organizers, exposing the teenagers and young adults "to ideas and training that linked the pipeline fight to larger struggles in their society," Elbein writes. "Every direct-action training against the Keystone XL, for example, referenced the prophecy of the black snake, a figure out of Lakota myth that in recent times has been identified with pipelines. But it has a more general meaning." IEN organizer Dallas Goldtooth told Elbein, "It symbolizes a darkness, a sickness, whose only intention is to sow dysfunction and loss of life in our communities," Elbein writes, "The message was clear: The struggle against the pipeline was part of the same struggle against alcoholism, suicide and abuse."

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