This week, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their supporters scored a major victory in their fight against plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River, not far from their ancestral homeland in North Dakota.
Though the resistance has unfolded in 2016, it echoes a broader history of the dispossession and colonial occupation of Indigenous people that is linked inextricably to issues of environmental justice.
That history, and the modern-day efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, were the focus of #NODAPL: A Teach-In for Standing Rock, at The New School recently.
The teach-in was organized and moderated by Jaskiran Dhillon, Assistant Professor of Global Studies and Anthropology at The New School, in conjunction with the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective. In addition to the hundreds of attendees who gathered in the auditorium for the event, thousands more tuned in via The New School’s Livestream.
Presenters at the teach-in included Indigenous youth, scholars, artists, and organizers in support of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate’s (The Great Sioux Nation) resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Speakers included Nick Estes of Red Nation/University of New Mexico, who spoke on the history and stories from the front lines of the demonstration; artist Jaque Fragua, who discussed Native resistance and the arts; Zaysha Grinnel and Kettie Jean of ReZpect Our Water, who explored Indigenous youth organizing; Jarrett Martinaeu of Revolutions Per Minute, who discussed music, media, and resistance; Teresa Montoya of New York University, who delved into toxicity and environmental colonial violence; and Dean Saranillio of New York University, who spoke on settler colonialism and politicized solidarity.
“This line-up of speakers made it clear how important it is to situate the struggle at Standing Rock through the geopolitics of settler colonialism and to unveil how ongoing, colonial dispossession makes these kinds of neoliberal development projects possible in the first place.” Dhillon said. “This is not only a fight about a pipeline, but also an ancient fight over territory and the attempted elimination of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island for the pursuit of conquest and profit.”
Dhillon opened the event by sharing some remarks from Hadrien Coumans, co-founder and director of the Lenape Center in New York City. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to foregrounding the history of Manahatta, including exposing the ongoing contamination of the land and water in the region, and supporting the Lenape’s enduring presence in New York City.
“’Standing Rock is being met with a multinational corporation that is in keeping with former Governor’s Keift’s colonial actions here in Manhattan against us in the 1640s, almost 400 years ago,'” Dhillon said, reading Coumans words. “‘Some say nothing has changed; however, much has changed. Earth is not able to continue to support life as it has with the levels of pollution still being dumped in our waters, air, land, and life. We need not travel far on Turtle Island [the original, Indigenous name for “North America”] to see that an aging nuclear power plant is leaking in the Hudson River 40 miles north of here. But let’s be clear: Standing Rock and Lenapehoking are the same Turtle Island; what happens there happens here. We did not tolerate colonialism then; we won’t allow it now.”
Reflecting on the large crowd gathered at the event, Estes said, “My grandparents, who fought to protect Lakota water in the 50s, could not have imagined the immense support our Nations are receiving today by diverse communities like the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective.”
He added: “To be able to carry on their traditions as Water Protectors and have that honored in this space was truly humbling.”
The event was organized as part of the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective with generous support from several programs and institutes at The New School: the Dean’s Office at Eugene Lang College, the Schools of Public Engagement Executive Dean’s Office, the Bachelor’s Program for Adults and Transfer Students, Global Studies, Environmental Studies, Anthropology, Milano and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics.