Native American Heritage Month keynote event finds hope in Standing Rock

Natalia Sperry

When a movement falls out of the public spotlight, often times it dies down and loses its momentum, but the movement started by the Standing Rock water protectors defies that expectation, and many others.

Panelists discuss after screening of film
The film “AWAKE: A Dream from Standing Rock” was shown at the LSC Theatre on Monday, November 13th. A discussion with the filmmakers followed the screening of the film. (Abby Flitton | Collegian)

The Native American Cultural Center , in partnership with RamEvents and Trees, Water & People, hosted  a film showing of “AWAKE: A Dream From Standing Rock” in the Lory Student Center Nov. 13 for the Native American History Month keynote event. After the showing, the filmmakers were available for a question and answer session with the audience.

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“Last year around this time, we were very much engaged in the conversation around what was happening at Standing Rock,” said Tiffany Kelly, assistant director of the NAAC. “There was a lot of momentum, I think, for folks wanting to get involved and engaged around campus.” 

In July 2016, the United States Army Corps of Engineers approved the portion of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline that crosses the Missouri River at the Lake Oahe reservoir. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not long afterwards. In the coming months, thousands of activists converged from around the country to stand in solidarity with the#NoDAPL Native-led peaceful resistance at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. 

“One of the things that’s really important to me about this film is that the indigenous voices are telling indigenous stories,” said Stephanie Cassidy, program manager at International WOW.

The film follows the rise of the Standing Rock movement from its earliest days of protest in fall of 2016 to President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum signed in January 2017 that called to expedite the review and approval process for the unbuilt section of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

“Up until that point, I was seeing everywhere water was there for us. It’s very easy to take that for granted, that you wake up in the morning and make that cup of coffee that fuels us as students, to get us through our day … (It’s) everywhere in our lives,” said Floris White Bull, filmmaker and Standing Rock member. “There’s a growing population of people who don’t have access to clean water due to fracking, because the oil spills, and that’s preventable.”

According to the film, the Dakota Access Pipeline is designed to carry crude, fracked oil across the Missouri River, the water supply of 17 million people. 

“What happened at Standing Rock isn’t just about one pipeline,” White Bull said. “It’s not about just one tribe. It’s not one single issue. It was a platform for indigenous people who have been long overdue for a voice.”

“It’s not about just one tribe. It’s not one single issue. It was a platform for indigenous people who have been long overdue for a voice.” Floris White Bull, filmmaker and Standing Rock member

AWAKE details the protest of the “water protectors,” both indigenous people and allies, through personal accounts and live, graphic footage of the tear gas, rubber bullets and high-pressure water they faced. In the film, White Bull asks the American people to “wake up and dream” with the Standing Rock nation as such images play on-screen. 

“It’s so powerful and everyone needs to see (the film), regardless of where you stand on the (political) spectrum,” said Rachel Navratil, a senior human development and family studies major who helped organize the keynote through Ram Events.

Though the film displayed raw footage of violent police brutality, the filmmakers and advocates closed the keynote not with defeat, but with hope for the future. 

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“I believe this is a turning point, and we’re at a cross roads now,” said filmmaker Doug Good Feather, member of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux Nation and a descendant of Chief Sitting Bull. “It is our time to stand up for our Mother Earth. It is our time to use our education, to use our voices, to use what we believe in that is good for our children coming.”

Collegian reporter Natalia Sperry can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Natalia_Sperry.