Three Years Since the Standing Rock Protests

What Has Changed?

In 2016, Native American tribes and allies from all over the country came to North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is in the center of North and South Dakota. Standing Rock was originally established as a part of the Great Sioux Reservation, which was established in 1868. In 2014, Energy Transfer Partners LP made plans to build an oil pipeline that would stretch over a thousand miles from North Dakota to Iowa, and carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The pipeline, called the Dakota Access Pipeline, would run through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. 

When the Dakota Access Pipeline was approved in 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe sprang into action. The pipeline would run right next to their drinking water—any spill or leakage would contaminate their water supply. Additionally, the pipeline would run through the tribe’s sacred burial sites. 

On April 1, 2016, a group of 200 Native Americans rode on horseback to protest the construction. They set up a camp, called The Sacred Stone Camp, which became a site of protest for the cause. In November, 2016, the protesters were ordered to evacuate their protest site. The protesters intended on staying, and clashed with the police. 

Finally, the Obama Administration denied a key permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to be built. Protesters were relieved until a couple of months later, when the Trump Administration reversed that decision and approved further construction. The Dakota Access pipeline is now built, and carrying oil. Energy Transfer even plans on expanding, and transporting more oil.

But all hope is not lost. Standing Rock Activists did not give up the fight. Although the Sacred Stone Camp is gone, its ethos lives on in the Sacred Stone Village. Sacred Stone Village is an EcoVillage, whose mission is to combine Native traditions and sustainable living. Their Facebook page continues to update on the work that they have accomplished. Highlights include collecting trash from the cannonball river, planting indigenous trees and berries, and continuing to educate about the dangers of fossil fuels. 

The individual activists from Standing Rock continue to speak out and work hard to warn against the dangers of oil pipelines. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, founder of Sacred Stone Camp, continues to give speeches and educate the world about indigenous rights and environmental protection. Spiritual activist and former Standing Rock spokeswoman, Cheryl Angel, is still working towards her goal of uniting people in fighting for water safety and protection. 

Three years later, activists won’t give up on their mission to fight for their slogan, Water is Life.






ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur. 

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Development and Deforestation Threatens Peru’s Indigenous Tribes

Deforestation threatens indigenous tribes living in the Peruvian jungle. Photo by  Alexander Paul  on  Unsplash

Deforestation threatens indigenous tribes living in the Peruvian jungle. Photo by Alexander Paul on Unsplash

When we think of civilization, we think in Western terms: skyscrapers, factories, and automobiles.  But as we progress, there is a growing need to live in tune with the natural world. While our affinity for the environments may seem relatively new, some civilizations have lived in such a  way for centuries. The forests of Peru are home to 15 “uncontacted” tribes, groups who live in voluntary isolation and reject all connections to the outside world. However, the reverse is not true. Industrialization and deforestation threaten to take large pieces of territory from these indigenous peoples.

In December of 2017, the Congress of the Republic of Peru approved the construction of a road that would run along 172 miles of Peru’s eastern border with Brazil before connecting with the Interoceanic Highway, a 1600 mile stretch that links the two countries. The road was pitched as a way to jumpstart the economy in an area of Peru that was cut off from tourism and trade, but activists are worried. Clearing a way for the road would decimate 4 national parks and violate 5 protected areas belonging to the indigenous tribes.  Activists also predict that the road will be a catalyst for more development, both legal and illegal. Drug traffickers are always looking for new opportunities to expand, and a road through the Amazon would provide just that.

Some smaller encounters are equally devastating to relations between the outside world and the indigenous tribes of the Peruvian forest.  In April 2018, Sebastian Woodroffe, a Canadian scientist who traveled to Peru to study hallucinogenic medicine, was killed in an apparent lynching after he was accused of killing  81-year-old Olivia Arévalo, a local shaman to the tribal village of Victoria Gracia. Authorities launched an investigation after videos surfaced on social media of Woodroffe being dragged along the jungle floor by assailants. They later exhumed Woodroffe’s body from an unmarked grave. The incident has proven to be disastrous to public perception of the tribes.

When asked why they choose to remain isolated, members of these tribes often point to encounters their people had with colonists in the past and the violence and disease that resulted. Today, history seems to be repeating itself as modern society reaches further into an untouched and irreplaceable ecosystem.




JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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Why Native Americans Struggle to Protect Their Sacred Places

People protest the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

People protest the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Forty years ago the U.S. Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act so that Native Americans could practice their faith freely and that access to their sacred sites would be protected. This came after a 500-year-long history of conquest and coercive conversion to Christianity had forced Native Americans from their homelands.

Today, their religious practice is threatened all over again. On Dec. 4, 2017, the Trump administration reduced the Bears Ears National Monument, an area sacred to Native Americans in Utah, by over 1 million acres. Bears Ears Monument is only one example of the conflict over places of religious value. Many other such sacred sites are being viewed as potential areas for development, threatening the free practice of Native American faith.

While Congress created the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to provide “access to sacred sites,” it has been open to interpretation. Native Americans still struggle to protect their sacred lands.

Land-based religions

Native Americans have land-based religions, which means they practice their religion within specific geographic locations. As Joseph Toledo, a Jemez Pueblo tribal leader, says, sacred sites are like churches; they are “places of great healing and magnetism.”

Some of these places, as in the case of Bears Ears National Monument, are within federal public lands. As a Native American scholar, I have visited many of these places and felt their power.

For thousands of years, tribes have used Bears Ears for rituals, ceremonies and collecting medicines used for healing. The different tribes – the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni – have worked to protect the land. Together they set up a nongovernmental organization, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to help conserve the landscape in 2015.

Native American tribes believe Bears Ears is the last of undisturbed sacred lands.  Mark Stevens ,  CC BY-NC-SA

Native American tribes believe Bears Ears is the last of undisturbed sacred lands. Mark StevensCC BY-NC-SA

The tribes believe Bears Ears is one of the last large undisturbed areas in the lower 48 states and contains the spirits of those who once lived there. Bears Ears Navajo elder Mark Maryboy emphasized, “It’s very important that we protect the earth, the plants, and special ceremonial places in Bears Ears for future generations — not just for Native Americans, but for everybody.”

Sacred landscape

My great-grandparents, Páyotayàkχkumei and Kayetså’χkumi, (translated as Aims-while-flying-through-the-air and Hollering-in-the-air), were well-known religious leaders on the Blackfeet reservation. They lived in the foothills of the south side of the reservation. However, they went into the mountains and onto public lands in an area now called the Badger-Two Medicine in northcentral Montana to practice their religion.

My great-grandfather traveled into Badger canyon to trap eagles and gather their feathers which he used in ceremonies and for divine protection. My great-grandmother gathered medicinal plants used in healing ceremonies. Together they prayed and sought solitude in this sacred landscape.

Similar to Bears Ears, the Badger-Two Medicine, a 130,000-acre area within the Lewis and Clark National Forest, became embroiled in a controversy over potential natural resource development between 1982 and 2017. The Blackfeet tribe argued that these lands were sacred. And that tribal members, such as my great-grandparents, had used these lands for years for spiritual purposes.

The Blackfeet tribe ultimately succeeded in stopping development, but only after a 35-year-long fight with the Department of Interior, which initially approved almost 50 oil and gas leases. In 2017 Interior Secretary Jewell canceled the last of these leases. This means these public lands will not be used for natural resource development in the future.

Now my family and other Blackfeet, who have used the Badger-Two Medicine for millennia, can use these public lands for their religious practice in solitude.

Forty years later

The reality is, however, that not every dispute between tribes and the U.S. government ends up in favor of the tribes. Historically, Native American tribes have struggled to explain why certain landscapes are sacred for them.

In 1988, just 10 years after the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Supreme Court considered a case involving the construction of a U.S. Forest Service road through undeveloped federal lands sacred to northern California tribes in the Six Rivers National Forest.

The lower court had ruled in favor of the Yurok, Karok and Tolowa tribes stating the road would impact their religious practice.

However, the Supreme Court reversed the decision, ruling that building a road through a sacred landscape would not prohibit the tribes “free exercise” of religion.

The tribes lost, because the Supreme Court viewed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act as a policy and not a law with legal protections.

Ultimately, the road was not built because Congress stepped in and added this sacred area to the existing Siskiyou Wilderness, which is a protected area by federal law.

What was noteworthy in the SCOTUS deliberations, though, was the dissenting opinion of Justice William Brennan, who defended land-based religions. He said,

“Native American faith is inextricably bound to the use of land. The site-specific nature of Indian religious practice derives from the Native American perception that land is itself a sacred, living being.”

Indeed, religion scholars such as Yale professor Tisa Wenger point outthat “the most important religious freedom issues for Native Americans” center around protecting their sacred places.

At a time when the Trump administration has created a new task force to address discrimination against certain religious groups, the exclusion of Bears Ears and other places of religious significance from these discussions raises important questions about religious freedom in the United States and also the legacy of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

ROSALYN R. LAPIER is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at The University of Montana.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Inside an Apache Rite of Passage Into Womanhood

 

For the Mescalero Apache Tribe, girls are not recognized as women until they have undergone the Sunrise Ceremony- an ancient, coming-of-age ceremony that lasts for four days. Last May, VICE got rare access to the ceremony for Julene Geronimo - the great, great grand-daughter of the renowned Apache leader, Geronimo. We followed Julene through each day of her arduous rite-of-passage to better understand what womanhood means for the Apache tribe, and how these ceremonies play a significant role in preserving a way of life that almost became extinct.

Earth's Most Threatened Tribe

The Awá Indians are the last nomadic hunter gatherer tribe to be discovered in the Brazilian Amazon.

Today, despite having survived many brutal massacres at the hands of settlers and illegal loggers over the course of centuries, the Awá now face pressing man-made threats and even the natural landscape itself is no longer able to sustain to their way of life. For this critically endangered tribe, extinction remains a very real possibility.

A year or so ago I travelled deep into the forests of Maranhão to meet some of the last remaining members of the Awá tribe.

This is their story.

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Originally from Pará, a state to the west of Maranhão, the Awá were living in villages and farming crops when the Portuguese settlers arrived 500 years ago. Enslaved by the Portuguese, and with their numbers greatly reduced by the introduction of smallpox, the remaining Awá eventually fled east to Maranhão, perhaps prompted by the bloody revolt on the Portuguese plantations, the Rebelião da Cabanagem, which took place between 1835 and 1840, and claimed as many as 30,000 lives.

Fearful of their vulnerability as sedentary agriculturists, the Awá now became nomadic hunter-gathers, able to build a shelter within hours and abandon it only days later, melting back into the forest. In Maranhão, the Awá had moved into the territory of the Guajajara, the largest tribe in Brazil with more than 20,000 members, and they remained unable to secure or defend any land for growing crops.

By 1973, when the Awá were contacted by outsiders for the first time, they had fully adapted to living a nomadic lifestyle, and had lost all of their farming skills and even the knowledge of how to make fire.
A group of Awá taking a break in the forest during hunting.

A group of Awá taking a break in the forest during hunting.

Following the unwelcome invasion of the Portuguese, the Awá, and many other indigenous Indians, continued to suffer great atrocities at the hands of loggers, colonists, and ranchers. For instance, when Brazil’s military dictatorship took over in 1964, it implemented a policy of “assimilating” indigenous people to reach its goal of national unification, which included wiping out those peoples who refused to cooperate, by dropping bombs or feeding them sugar laced with arsenic.

In 1967, the 7,000-page Figueiredo report exposed the true extent of the criminal actions and genocide carried out against the indigenous population of Brazil, and the National Indian Foundation, or FUNAI, was established in response. This is the Brazilian government body that establishes and carries out policies relating to indigenous peoples. The report also triggered the founding of Survival International, a human rights organization that campaigns on behalf of indigenous tribal peoples, and who consider the Awá to be “Earth’s most threatened tribe”.

The Awá use ambush techniques to hunt the Guariba monkey. Once they have spotted the animal, the hunters will surround it so that the animal finds itself trapped in the center.

The Awá use ambush techniques to hunt the Guariba monkey. Once they have spotted the animal, the hunters will surround it so that the animal finds itself trapped in the center.

Recently Survival International helped the Awá people secure a landmark victory when unprecedented international pressure finally forced the Brazilian government to send in ground troops in January 2014 to expel illegal ranchers and loggers from what remains of Awá territory. Experts warn that it is now critical that a permanent land protection program be put into place to keep the invaders out of the Awá territory.

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[1] Piramahã is the oldest man in the tribe. He is preparing his arrows for the next hunt, and later will prepare this fresh meat for the tribe’s evening meal. [2] Awá often hunt the Guariba monkey and smoking the meat makes it last longer. [3] Young Awá during the hunt.

[1] Piramahã is the oldest man in the tribe. He is preparing his arrows for the next hunt, and later will prepare this fresh meat for the tribe’s evening meal. [2] Awá often hunt the Guariba monkey and smoking the meat makes it last longer. [3] Young Awá during the hunt.

Though the government intervention in 2014 signals positive progress, for many of the Awá it came far too late. Thousands were brutally massacred during territorial conflicts in the 70s and 80s with the fazendeiros, or ranchers, and with illegal loggers. Most recently, in late 2011, illegal loggers tied an eight-year-old Awá girl to a tree after she wandered out of her village, and brutally burned her alive, reportedly as a warning to other native peoples living in the protected area.

The threat of deadly infection after contact with outsiders also continues to pose a significant threat to the Awá. For example, over the last five years, one in seven Awá has died of malaria. The disease was brought to Alto Turiaçu by the thousands garimpeiros, or gold seekers, who invaded the Awá lands and later made a fortune on the international market.

A little squirrel is breastfeeding. In Awá culture, any kind of young, abandoned animal can become a pet, even if it is a species that they usually hunt. When the animal grows to adulthood, they take the animal back in to the forest and set it free.

A little squirrel is breastfeeding. In Awá culture, any kind of young, abandoned animal can become a pet, even if it is a species that they usually hunt. When the animal grows to adulthood, they take the animal back in to the forest and set it free.

The centuries-long bloody conflict with their traditional enemies, the Ka’apor tribe, has also continued to claim many Awá lives, and elsewhere in Maranhão, trains come from Carajas, the world’s biggest iron mine, and cut through the Awá land multiple times per day.

Today FUNAI estimates that there are only 300 Awá left, with around 60 still living uncontacted in small groups of five or six in the forests.
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[1] A young Awá hunter. [2] An Awá mother helps to remove a thorn from the foot . [3] Playing with another unusual pet.

[1] A young Awá hunter. [2] An Awá mother helps to remove a thorn from the foot . [3] Playing with another unusual pet.

In recent years, as they have suffered at the hands of violent invaders and from infectious diseases, the Awá have been forced to seek assistance from FUNAI. As a result, some of the Awá have now chosen to live in purpose-built shelters on protected reserves such as the Alto Turiaçu, but they struggle to embrace this new lifestyle.

Young Awá children check the freshly caught animals. For the future hunter, this is part of the learning process.

Young Awá children check the freshly caught animals. For the future hunter, this is part of the learning process.

The Alto Turiaçu is only a small part of the Awá’s traditional land and the diminishing natural fauna in this area is pushing the nomadic hunters to live more sedentary lifestyles — learning how to plant and grow crops like manioc to ensure a food supply, as their ancestors once did.

Amerixaá is the oldest woman in the Awá tribe. She lives deep in the jungle, far from the rest of the community. In Awá culture, older members traditionally remove themselves from the tribe, living alone until they pass away.

Amerixaá is the oldest woman in the Awá tribe. She lives deep in the jungle, far from the rest of the community. In Awá culture, older members traditionally remove themselves from the tribe, living alone until they pass away.

Yet some Awá still persist in living in their traditional nomadic groups of five or six people. Today in the Alto Turiaçu there is one small community of about 45 people who choose to live this way. FUNAI offers them real, but fragile, protection to continue their way of life.

The Awá spend a long time preparing the arrows for the hunt, and many skills are passed on from father to son.

The Awá spend a long time preparing the arrows for the hunt, and many skills are passed on from father to son.

“The Awá have been continuously threatened by attacks, invasion, and extermination, and even inside the reserve their survival is uncertain,” the people from FUNAI told me.

“We don’t have extra resources to protect them from the ranchers who continue to encroach on their land. Since the forest has been cut back and transformed into farming lands, small towns have sprouted up over the Awá lands. In the face of these changes, Awá numbers have been drastically decreased. We estimate that fewer than 360 Awá have survived the occupation of their land, and around 60 still live uncontacted in small nomadic groups.”

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[1] An aerial view of the Awá village I visited. [2] A family of Awá in the village. [3] A young Awá hunter.

[1] An aerial view of the Awá village I visited. [2] A family of Awá in the village. [3] A young Awá hunter.

Today, in a world where they can no longer live as nomads, the Awá are struggling for survival and for their unique cultural identity. For the Awá, hunting is a way of life, and as the illegal loggers distort the forest habitat, the animals are disappearing. Despite their efforts to keep moving, they face the encroachment of the modern world at every turn, and remain threatened with extinction.

The Awá people need time to recover from the extreme brutality and humiliation they have suffered for centuries at the hands of the invaders. Yet we do not give them time. In our world, time is money. We cannot let the last of the Awá, or any other indigenous tribal people, disappear.

One of the last remaining groups of Awá people today.

One of the last remaining groups of Awá people today.

“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”

— WADE DAVIS

Aparana’i with her newborn baby.

Aparana’i with her newborn baby.

TAKE ACTION

Learn more about uncontacted tribes in Brazil through Survival International as they work to protect the last Awá.

 

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MAPTIA.

 

DOMENICO PUGLIESE

Domenico is an Italian photographer currently based in London. His long term project is working with the "Awa-Guaja" tribe in the Brazilian Amazon.