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The following is a guest post by Skylar Henry. It was created as part of the COP23 SustainUs Delegation creative challenge.  Please see the end of the submission for his bio.

The story I am about to tell you is one that should be heard and heard again, a story never to be forgotten. If it could be, then it should be declared a National Monument, one that Trump can’t take away and that will be placed right beside the Declaration of Independence. —No, not really, but what is in the story is the concept of reflection, how to make the most out of what we have, and how to learn from each other. This story is not one like those our families discuss or tell us about, but it is a story that teaches us just the same. I am fortunate and lucky to be alive to tell and witness this living story…

The Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as DAPL, was the cause for my friend Kayla DeVault’s journey to Cannonball, North Dakota on the land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She is dear friend to many and a known worker and scholar to Arizona State University. Her travels around the world and the issues that she’s involved with are astounding to hear, and can have an impact on others. On one of her travels she was fortunate enough to travel to and return from Imider, Morocco. While there, she was able to view, listen, comprehend, and protest proudly with the people of Imider while in solidarity with them against infractions on their indigenous sovereignty by a colonizing government. For her to attend a university, travel, and work all at the same time says something about her not on the outside, but on the inside.

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Kayla DeVault, addressing her stand and cause while giving a summary of her travels to Imider. Also, she did a shout out to me on the radio about how I slept along the way to Standing Rock.

With Kayla’s stories and getting to know this exceptional, awe-inspiring person, it was a bit of a wake-up call to myself about how to lead and inspire others from my own stories I have to share. On Kayla’s return back from Morocco, she set a goal for herself not only to share the story about the Imider people but also to travel to Standing Rock to present a solidarity poster made in Morocco. The people of Imider had also stood with the cause at Standing Rock for #NoDAPL.  She read their solidarity statement on the camp radio and held one of only two copies of the poster.  One poster remains in Imider at the protest camp there; we left the second post at Sacred Stone Camp.  I was fortunate enough to join her on her quest to travel to Cannonball, North Dakota; however, we never knew what was going to lie ahead of us.

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The campfire of those who stand with against the pipeline.

The issue of the DAPL is the process of drilling and placing oil pipelines underneath a body of water sacred to the Lakota without their consent. It also involves destruction of treaty land in order to transport oil from First Nations’ land in Canada to the United States. The people involved with implementing this project allegedly consider it the best possible solution to transport the viable oil in order to meet the demand of oil in the United States. They also claim that, with the best materials and equipment of the pipelines, there shall be no possible way of some malfunctioning to happen, including a break in the pipeline. However, through history and other events related to oil pipelines and their effects, we – the protesters, environmentalists, scientists, activists, socialists, and the rest of those who stand with us – say otherwise about the pipeline. We know all too well what will happen to the environment and to the impacted communities were the pipeline to be established. Along with the DAPL, there is also the other side of the story and that is through the eyes, hearts, minds, bodies, and souls of the Native Americans and their sovereignty. Yes, we may be the first people of the Americas and separate in our own way but we should not be forgotten, nor should we treated less than humans, animals, or plants. We are still alive, surviving, and fighting for what seems like others have the opportunity to have but which we don’t have yet.

Knowing the issues with the DAPL and hearing the stories involved with the conflict between the protesters and the opposite party, we knew that we had to protect ourselves. The unpredictability of the situation meant it could be a completely different day and circumstance when we arrived. In many ways, the journey to Standing Rock was grand, engaging, and majestic. I was fortunate and able to call myself a traveler as my friend, Kayla, and many others like us on this tiresome trail. The days were great and long because I was able to see and explore what the States had for me. In a matter of hours, I had driven through areas I knew and others which I had never seen before. During our travel north from New Mexico into Colorado, I was more or less blessed to be greeted in the presence of three hawks alongside the road. I felt that I was safe, blessed, and protected, then I watched the sunset over the Coloradan grasslands in traditional Comanche territory.

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A nice sunset that Kayla had to pull over for.

It was early morning when we arrived in Cannonball. A recent blizzard had left the roads treacherous. As Standing Rock had diverted so many funds to the #NoDAPL cause, maintenance was even worse on the Reservation. We arrived with the first morning light to the camp and were greeted by the dire, icy cold weather which tugged at the flags lining the entrance. These flags were representative of all the nations who stand strong against the pipeline. I was amazed and shocked at how many flags there were, and that I was here to witness what they were protecting. I don’t know if I saw what they saw, but I am sure it was a realization only that can only be captured by being present.

My mind began to wonder and think of the movie, Dances with Wolves, and how that movie was able to capture and enrich the beauty of the land, land which I stood on now. Realizing I had just driven through the movie’s setting of North and South Dakota, that is what struck me the most. I began to question that this is maybe this sensation is the quest others are attracted to, that maybe they could feel awe in the same way about this land. Perhaps their goal in being here is they do not want this land to be corrupted by an oil spill or to have the environment go to waste. That they want the land to live as well as the plants and animals along with it. I know that I am not associated with the tribe, nor is this land anywhere near where my tribe resides, but I felt connected to the cause. I could agree with Standing Rock’s goal of protecting their ancestral homeland and what it means to them and their people pertaining to Native identity.

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Here is a picture of some horses and cows that were huddling together to stay warm in the cold, which I was amazed to see up in North Dakota.

Knowing what I have experienced and seen, it was quite a journey and a story to tell many who may ask what it was like in North Dakota. My friend, Kayla, was able to complete her quest of placing the poster from Imider, who stood with Standing Rock, at the sacred campfire. Also with that day, I was able to meet with Kayla’s other friend, Jackie Keeler, a Native American journalist, and to hear her experience with Standing Rock and of the people there as well. Unfortunately, being tired throughout most of the day, I did happen to fall asleep during their conversation with one another. As embarrassing as that is, I hope I did not make a bad impression upon Jackie, and I wonder if she will add me in her article about her experience in Standing Rock. I guess you could say my exhaustion was to be expected, however, as I had slept outside in temperatures falling below -20°F after completing a long, spiritually tiring journey.

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The morning of our arrival in Cannonball and near the Sacred Camp Fire.

With what has happened and what I have experienced, I know that this was an unforgettable journey for my sophomore year at Arizona State University. As I grow as a person, I think about this trip and how it has inspired me to think differently about how I participate with my community and with others. I look forward to developing my skills, as an artist, a writer, a storyteller, and a life-experiencer. I know that the fight will not be over for climate justice and protecting cultural resources because there will be those who think otherwise, but with an open mind and heart, one can find the realization I have felt.

 

AUTHOR BIO:

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Skylar Henry (Navajo/Paiute/Zuni) is a Junior at Arizona State University and an upcoming artist.  He draws on his heritage as inspiration and frequently incorporates artistic interpretation into his interdisciplinary Business and Communications studies.  Having grown up in the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation, which is near the Grand Canyon, he is familiar with the intersectionality of natural resources, culture, and climate justice.  In December 2016, he was fortunate enough to visit to Standing Rock and deliver artwork at the sacred campfire.

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