From September 23 to September 27, 2016, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) sent a delegation to visit the prayer camps that have been constructed along the Cannonball River adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation and within unceded treaty territory. On each of the four days we visited the camps and met with people who provide both leadership and service in order to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). We found the camps to be places of resilience and healing dedicated to building and maintaining a decolonized society intentionally grounded in Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota culture and Ceremony.
The methodology being used in protection of the water is new. Guided and shaped by elders and tribal leaders, direct action is done within the context of prayer and Ceremony. Peace is the foundation of both the resistance and the resilience. Nonviolence is taught and reinforced through daily training and orientation in which all newcomers are required to participate.
An Indigenous economy is the foundation of camp life: the needs of those who are either camping or visiting are met though five kitchens, a number of solar showers, the maintenance of a clean and healthy environment and the provision of services.
This call is urgent. The delegation recommends both immediate and long-term responses. There is an immediate need to secure access to specific resources for the water protectors who have come to ‘Íŋyaŋwakağapi Wakpá (the Cannonball River). These resources center around the provision of legal representation to protectors and winter preparations for all of the camps.
If we respond to this call, we should do so with humility, understanding that through service and support—and not through leadership, for that already exists—we will all learn through respectful participation in the process.
In the long term, there is no issue that is more important than clean water and equitable access to it. This issue is already of deepest concern in poor and oppressed communities globally. Scientists predict that there are only 100 years of clean water left on this earth. In some Indigenous and rural communities and urban Communities of Color located in the United States, there is already no access to safe drinking water.
Access to clean water is foundational to peace and the building of healthy communities. It is also a requirement in the development and maintenance of sustainable equitable structural and social change. Indigenous people are at the forefront of addressing this issue both locally and globally. We recommend working with Indigenous leadership to discern each entity’s role in supporting Indigenous people in the protection of water resources and construction of decolonized, healthy communities that are respectful and responsible to our relative, this earth.