Gender and Sexuality Column

Pino: Feminist implications of Standing Rock often overlooked

Frankie Prijatel | Senior Staff Photographer

Construction of the North Dakota Access Pipeline started a fight against its development to ensure the respect and preservation of indigenous groups that constantly find themselves at the mercy of the Unites States government.

The DAPL was proposed to make the U.S. more self-sufficient by minimizing the need to import energy from other countries. Having the pipeline would also be a more environmentally safe way of importing the crude oil. But while the government sees this as a cost-effective way to fuel the country, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has filed a complaint in federal court and protested at the Sacred Stone Camp since April 1.

Protesters were hit with rubber bullets and doused with water in freezing temperatures Monday, which sent some protesters to the hospital with hypothermia. One activist from New York had her arm torn apart from an explosion, which those present say came from a hand grenade fired by authorities. Instances of this kind of abuse and infringement on the rights of indigenous people make it clear that prejudice and privilege are as alive as ever.

While the DAPL does put the historic sites and sacred spaces of the Standing Rock tribe at risk, at its core, this project is just as much a feminist issue as it is an environmental and cultural one.

Dani, a woman from Montana, peacefully protests at Standing Rock.

Frankie Prijatel | Senior Staff Photographer

The main issue with the DAPL is that depriving families of clean drinking water creates a chain reaction of problems: from the financial burden of having to purchase clean water to increased physical violence against native people. This violence particularly affects Native American women, as they are almost three times more likely than other groups to be sexually assaulted — with two-thirds of those assaults being committed by non-natives, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice.

The conflict is also a feminist concern because traditionally, within tribes like the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, women are the leaders — and the DAPL protests are no exception. The indigenous women in positions of power are stopping at nothing in order to ensure construction crews can’t begin work on the pipeline, even if that means using their own bodies as barricades.

These “chosen protectors of the water” are determined to put an end to the DAPL to not only preserve the sacred sites on their land and have clean drinking water, but to help preserve Mother Earth because any harm caused to her would be harm to us all. The battle that is currently taking place at Standing Rock is just a part of a long, ongoing history of oppression and the white man’s efforts to erase the last remnants of Native American history and culture.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, a magazine, newspaper and online journalism graduate student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, traveled to North Dakota in September and October to join the protests and stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Bennett-Begaye considered her firsthand experience at Standing Rock a spiritual awakening. As for national attention — or lack thereof — on the DAPL, Bennett-Begaye pointed to how indigenous people are struggling for their voice to be heard.

“It’s just sad that it takes a white person or celebrity non-Native who has to say something about it — that’s what makes the news which is a sad thing,” said Bennett-Begaye. “It’s a cycle and that’s what we are trying to break. People only pay attention when there’s violence rising.”

Because both men and women have taken it upon themselves to defend their health, culture and sacred spaces, Bennett-Begaye underscored the importance of gender equality in the fight against the DAPL.

“The role of women in native communities is that we are equal, men and women were created to help one another,” she said.

But rather than embracing the empowerment of women and the diminishing importance of gender roles in native communities, non-natives are undermining this powerful activism.

The women of Standing Rock are setting an example that the rest of the world should take note of. These women are powerful, respected and have a sense of authority within their tribes that is missing in the rest of U.S.’ patriarchal society. They are putting their lives on the line to protect their identities and the history of their people while making it clear that they are their own protectors.

Ivana Pino is a sophomore political science major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at ivpino@syr.edu.

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