A Powerful, Emotional Uprising for Indigenous Rights*
Indigenous people from around the world gathered to promote sovereignty, resistance, respect, justice and love at the Native Nations Rise March
By Renae Ditmer
If rain on your wedding day is good luck, then snow on the day of the Native Nations Rise march in Washington, D.C. on March 10, served as a sign of hope in the fight for indigenous rights across the United States and around the world—especially when the battle at stake stems on the sanctity of water.
Under heavy wet clumps of snow falling from gray skies, a hearty and determined group of thousands of indigenous people from tribal nations as far away as Bolivia and Tibet sloshed through soggy streets. Sounds of drums, whoops, and the tinkling from jingle dresses filled the air. Some dressed in traditional tribal dress; others wore turquoise handkerchiefs, while many showed up in dark colors to symbolize their mood at a time of intense challenge.
Starting at the United States Army Corps of Engineers and moving on past the Trump International Hotel to the White House, the marchers had a unified message to send to President Donald Trump and his administration: Mni Wiconi, “Water is Life!” The chant has quickly become a shorthand for tribes’ struggle to reassert tribal sovereignty and self-determination over their physical and spiritual spheres. The phrase was joined by many other expressions aimed at attracting the attention of the federal government:
“We stand with Standing Rock!” – “Keep the oil in the soil, you can’t drink oil!” –
“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Donald Trump has got to go!” – And,
“Shame, shame, shame!”
The Native Nations Rise march was organized by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Native Organizers Alliance and Indigenous Environmental Network to support the Standing Rock fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and raise awareness to other indigenous issues. Thanks to the participation of protesters the march generated headlines and raised the spirits of Native activists and their allies.
“Water is life, and we’re going to fight for what’s rightfully ours,” said Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Chairman Aaron Payment.
“We’re going to keep bringing information so that they’re going to have to do something. We’re going to remind them of their trust responsibilities, and our treaty rights to protect our natural resources, and sacred sites.”
A major issue that percolated to the forefront of the day was a goal to get a 500-year-old relic – The Doctrine of Discovery – revoked.
“The Dakota Access Pipeline crisis is a direct result of the United States government using the religious underpinnings of U.S. federal law against our nations,” Chairman JoDe Goudy of the Yakama Nation explained regarding the doctrine in a press statement issued during the Native Nations Rise march.
“These religious underpinnings are traced to Vatican papal decrees from the fifteenth century that called for the subjugation of non-Christian nations, and they are being utilized against our Native nations and peoples to this day. This is the precedent that is relied upon for the continuous failed attempts to protect our resources in the federal courts.”
“The United States government claims the ‘right of Christian Discovery’ to dominate our nations, lands, and waters,” added Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
“This claimed ‘right’ is stated in U.S. Supreme Court decisions—starting with Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823, and reaffirmed by Tee-Hit-Ton v. U.S. in 1955, City of Sherrill, N.Y. v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York in 2005, and many others.”
Revocation of the doctrine will obviously be a difficult goal to achieve, but the key is getting the stakeholders to listen, said many of the day’s participants.
Beyond that challenge, the most prominent message shared throughout the day was that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not alone. Solidarity knit the large, diverse group together, regardless of race.
Like Alana from the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, many were, as she said, “proud and happy to be here today, and finally making a statement,” as was her friend, Cher, who added that
“it is powerful here and people gathered together.”
“It’s an honor to be here in Washington, D.C., to stand for all nations. I’m just unbelievably moved by the amount of amazing people here,” shared Sheridan, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member and rancher with a 2,000-acre plot she and her family have worked on the reservation for nearly two centuries.
Another common feeling was empowerment. A participant from Ponka Tribe of Oklahoma with several generations in tow – her daughters, granddaughter, niece along with several friends – said that “they were all coming together again for the generations to come and feeling empowered and strong.”