“The issues at Standing Rock are rooted in the genocide of their people that has been happening for hundreds of years.” –Rachel Ellison
For years, news about current events regarding the Native American community have often been swept under the rug. Hopefully by now you may have heard something about the tribes of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is wanting to use land near the reservation to build a $3.8 billion pipeline that would carry over 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois.
Last month the National Underground Railroad hosted the Community Conversation: Standing Rock. Visitors learned about the DAPL and where the issues pertaining to it currently stand. Free and open to the public, this community conversation was organized by Northern Kentucky University graduate and National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Intern Rachel Ellison. In addition to her studies, she is a photographer and an activist who decided to put the panel together after delivering supplies to the Oceti Sakowin Camp in North Dakota last November.
“These are a peaceful people who are fighting for the basic human rights to clean water and sovereignty over their own land. They have been beaten, pepper-sprayed, chased by dogs, sprayed with water cannons, and shot with rubber bullets because of it,” she mentions. “This is why it is important that we do not turn a blind eye to this issue and why I brought this conversation to the Freedom Center.”
The conversation was moderated by Allison Warner, President of Kiksuya, an NKU student organization dedicated to service and outreach to Native American communities. Panelists included Albert Ortiz, Chairman of the American Indian Movement of Indiana and Kentucky and a member of the Kiowa and Yaqui tribes; Dr. Nicole Grant, PhD, Professor of Sociology at Northern Kentucky University and an expert on Indigenous issues; Dr. Joan Ferrante, PhD, Professor of Sociology at Northern Kentucky University and an expert on race relations; and Alan Seifert, a local Cincinnatian activist who recently traveled to Standing Rock to participate in the protests.
With over 50 guests in attendance, the two-hour conversation included a discussion of the poor conditions Naitve American communities face; the ongoing occurences with Native Americans and racism, and why the issue of the DAPL Pipeline is so important. "The camp was in constant ceremony and prayer and it was extremely peaceful," says Alan Seifert as he recounted participating in a march during his time at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Standing Rock. After the introduction of the panelists, he began the evening telling the audience about his time spent in Dakota as he and Ellison delivered supplies to the Camp last November. Albert Ortiz gave vivid ordeals about what it is like for him living as a Native American, dealing with racism as he explained how just only three months ago he was told he wasn't allowed in a store because they "didn't have anything in there for him". The story he told of his upbringing and the struggles Native American tribes face across the country silenced the room as there were many times guests became emotional. Dr Ferrante gave the audience handouts about the racial classification system in America and briefly talked about racial stereotypes as her discussion gave a logical element to the conversation. Finally, Dr. Grant offered insight as to why students from all cultures and backgrounds could benefit from working on reservations stating "There are levels of humility, respect, love and perserverance that the Natives maintained regardless of their situations." She mentioned that witnessing these acts can show students what it's like to be a community.
Guests were then allowed to ask questions following the discussion. Some though used their speaking time to inform the audience of tools and resources that could be used to keep awareness going with the DAPL pipeline and the Standing Rock Reseveration including websites, reading material and politicians to contact to express concern for the matter. Guests were also encouraged to continually reach out to local media to put pressure on those outlets to keep the issue on everyone's mind.
We thank everyone who came to the event. We especially want to thank our panelists and Rachel Ellison for her planning and coordinating of this Community Conversation. Be sure to check freedomcenter.org for updates regarding the DAPL Pipeline and other upcoming programs and events.
Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
(Image by Rachel Ellison)