Water is Life

Water is Life. 

An undeniable statement. It is something that I never think twice about but have always known to be true. The first thing I do when I wake up each morning is reach for a glass of water. When I open the faucet, I never consider the possibility that I wouldn’t see clean water flowing out.

This is the reality of indigenous community members from Standing Rock, North Dakota and neighboring areas. They are currently being threatened by what they call the “Black Snake.” The name came from a prophecy, as explained by Dallas Goldtooth: “the Black Snake is a manifestation of the sickness of society, of the sickness of capitalism--of a system hellbent on the destruction of those dependent on the land and those who have a spiritual relationship with the earth.”

The Black Snake threatens the rights to the Lakota Sioux’s land, their water, and, ultimately, their livelihood. The Snake is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Since its initial construction in June of 2016, the pipeline violated the Treaty of Fort Laramie, dated April 29th, 1868, which explicitly protects the Sioux lands. The pipeline also poses a real risk to the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people living nearby. In 2017 alone, the pipeline leaked five times.  The largest of these leaks occurred on April 23rd when 168 gallons of crude oil leaked in Patoka, Illinois. For the Lakota Sioux, these events were their worst fears coming to life.  

What does one do when government actions are the cause of their oppression? They fight back. They protest. The Standing Rock tribe has been protesting DAPL since the beginning stages, pouring their hearts and souls into their fight. Since 2016, tribe members have fought tirelessly against the construction of the pipeline. They put their lives on the line and were met with violence and persecution.  Despite all their efforts, the pipeline was still completed. Since then the Standing Rock activists have been organizing long distance runs that begin in North Dakota and travel all the way to Washington, D.C. where the runners hand-deliver signed petitions to representatives of the Army Corps offices. 

I visited Washington D.C. in April, 2021 to document the end of the most recent run and the subsequent actions. During my time there, I spent time with Lakota Sioux youth and became educated about their indigenous culture and history, a powerful experience. I spent most of my time with the Standing Rock Youth Council. Their voices and leadership were the most transformative part of the trip; I was astounded to see the wisdom and maturity of these teenagers, most of whom were my age, as they juggled being high schoolers and protesting a cause that they were passionate about. I was only with the Standing Rock tribe for a few days but I learned so much about Indigenous heritage. The knowledge I gained from my trip made me reflect on how ignorant I was about this country’s history and how far removed I am from the land I reside on.  I learned that the best thing I could do to help my Indigenous peers was to amplify their voices by making their stories known to those in my own community. 

Love Hopkins, 10, poses for a portrait outside the National Mall. Washington, D.C, April 1, 2021.

Community members gather outside the Capitol Building as they prepare to run the length of the National Mall in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Washington, D.C April 1, 2021.

A father consoles his daughter. Washington, D.C, March 31, 2021.

A youth from the Standing Rock Youth Council poses for a portrait. Washington, D.C, March 31, 2021.

A youth poses with a banner protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline after a dinner hosted by the PALM collective and Piscataway relatives. Washington, D.C, March 31, 2021.

A youth pulls on the branch of a cherry blossom tree. Washington, D.C, March 31, 2021.

A woman poses for a portrait at a dinner hosted by the PALM collective and Piscataway relatives. Washington, D.C, March 31, 2021.

Youth attending the Dakota Access Pipeline protest pose for a portrait. Washington, D.C, April 1, 2021.

Protesters carry a paper mache “Black Snake”, which symbolizes the destruction the Dakota Access Pipeline will bring to their communities. Washington, D.C, April 1, 2021.

Two community members embrace during the Dakota Access Pipeline protest.Washington, D.C, April 1, 2021.

A youth at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest stands with his fist in the air. Washington, D.C, April 1, 2021.

Protesters gather outside the White House to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Washington, D.C, April 1, 2021.

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