Megan Ireland, a protestor from the Oneida Nation, speaks on her experiences at Standing Rock during the Standing Rock Teach-In organized by the Department of Education in the Crane Room on Oct. 29. (Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily)

Community gathers for teach-in on Standing Rock protests

Approximately 400 people gathered in Paige Hall this past weekend for the Standing Rock Teach-In, which took place on Oct. 28 and 29. The teach-in centered around the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota and featured activists from Standing Rock and other indigenous tribes as well as scholars in related fields.

Cecilia Petit, a senior on the teach-in’s organizing committee, spoke to Daily about the event, which was hosted by the Department of Education and the Program in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). 

“[We wanted to] create a space where that sort of conversation could take place about indigenous issues affecting places all across the country right now and how they’re all related to Standing Rock, historically, contemporarily,” Petit said.

When thinking about how to make a difference, Petit and the other organizers had wanted not only to raise awareness but also to create an ongoing conversation.

“It’s a public forum,” Petit said. “We hope that this public conversation expands outside of these two days … [to] continue this really important conversation about what’s happening and how it relates to the struggles that indigenous people are facing across the world and across history.”

The teach-in began on Friday afternoon with an introduction by the organizing committee, consisting of Chair of the Department of Education and Director of WGSS Sabina Vaught, Mellon Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts Mark Minch, graduate student in the Department of Education Deirdre Judge and Petit.

Vaught described the tradition of teach-ins, which originated in American universities in 1965 as faculty and students became involved in anti-war activism. She said that although this teach-in focused on the protests at Standing Rock, it was meant to connect to a series of related events.

“As we teach and learn these two days, many stories and conversations will take shape, and those can’t be predicted or planned, so we invite you all to participate in contributing to that shape,” Vaught said.

Paula Peters, a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal member, welcomed the audience to their ancestral land and gave an opening prayer. She then introduced the next speaker, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historian for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

“She is an interpreter of history,” Peters said of Brave Bull Allard’s role. “Our story is hardly ever told in our own voice, and if we don’t collect it and bring it to you, then our story will always be skewed by history.”

Brave Bull Allard spoke about how she became involved in the protests against the DAPL and helped to set up the Sacred Stone Camp, the campsite for those fighting against the DAPL at Standing Rock.

“It wasn’t any idea of saving the world, stopping the pipeline,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh my god, my son is buried there. Who would build a pipeline next to my son’s grave?’”

As the camp grew, she said, indigenous people from other areas of the country and the world came to join their protests against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineerswhich approved the construction of the pipeline.

“We as native people, we put our footprint into this earth, we buried our people. Our cultural sites, our ceremonial sites, they’re in the ground, and they’re taking my footprint off this ground,” she said. “As I looked around, Indian nation had come to tell them we objected.”

Brave Bull Allard then talked about the mainstream media’s lack of reporting and misrepresentation of what was happening, as well as her own history.

“A very typical, normal Indian childhood is foster care, boarding school, farming out … and adoption, because it was declared, in order to destroy the Indian nation you must take their children,” she said. “The only problem was that … our roots grow right out of our feet and we never forgot who we were. They didn’t know they were creating a people who never one day were victim but had always been survivors … because we live for one reason, and it is to protect the water and to protect the earth”.

She ended her speech by calling for people to stand up and learn from history.

“Like the buffalo, we face the storm,” she said. “To be a human being is to have that love and compassion for your fellow man … that’s how we change things.”

Next, Peters spoke about the Wampanoag Tribe’s history, from the 1614 kidnapping of 20 Wampanoag men from Patuxet to the 1976 raid and arrest of nine young men, eight of who were from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. This latter story is the subject of the 2016 documentary, “Mashpee Nine,” which Peters produced and which was screened at the teach-in.

“You cannot just eliminate our voice, because we will keep talking,” Peters said. “Activism for all of us is born out of outrage and fueled by passion.”

According to Petit, Peters’ talk connected local struggles with those happening at Standing Rock, showing the pervasiveness of not only settler-colonialism but also native strength and resilience.

Because of increased tensions at the front lines, the two speakers who had come from Standing Rock wanted to return earlier on Saturday. Thus, instead of closing the teach-in on Saturday evening as planned, Bobbi Jean Three Legs, a member of the Lakota tribe, spoke next about how she had helped organize relay races in protest against the DAPL.

She told the story of how five youth began running from Standing Rock to Omaha, Neb. Along the way, they met native people from other communities, and people living along the route offered to house and feed them.

“We started lighting fires everywhere, throughout different communities, throughout different reservations,” Three Legs said. “And it really made me realize that even though we are called different reservations … these are my people.”

The run’s success prompted them to organize another one to Washington, D.C. and when they returned, she said, the scene that greeted them at Sacred Stone Camp was unforgettable.

“The water’s alive and knows that we’re fighting for it,” Three Legs said.

Three Legs added that she is doing this for her daughter and for future generations. She also emphasized the importance of having youth-led movements and letting children speak.

The day ended with two talks about the history of protest and resistance.

Saturday’s program began with a panel that discussed sovereignty and sacred spaces as well as how the law is used against people through its language and rhetoric, according to Petit.

Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego University Cutcha Risling Baldy, of the Hupa, Karuk and Yurok Tribes, then spoke about the importance of social media in creating conversations across borders. According to Petit, Risling Baldy discussed the power of hashtags, which show what issues are being discussed online but ignored by mainstream media, as well as the movement to check in at Standing Rock on Facebook.

“[Social media] gives indigenous people voices,” Petit said.

Later, Norine Hill, a citizen of the Oneida Nation, spoke about the important role that native women play in their communities and shared success stories from Native Women in Need, a charitable organization that aids and supports native women recovering from historical trauma, of which Hill is founder and executive director. This was followed by Megan Ireland’s speech about her personal experiences at Standing Rock and other talks, including one from Thomas Abowd, a Tufts professor of American studies, anthropology and Arabic.

To Petit, the fact that the panels ran over time and went off schedule reinforced the relevance of the topics discussed.

“It did make me feel like these conversations aren’t confined to a certain time or a certain space,” she said. “These panels aren’t separate from one another, and the issues aren’t separate from one another.”

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