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DAPL: Water Protectors' Struggles Resonate With Maidu in California

The Dakota Access Pipeline water struggles resonated with the Maidu people in what is today Oroville, California, since the Gold Rush cost them their pristine water.

The fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from being routed near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation resonated worldwide because water struggles are happening everywhere. Oroville, California, was no exception.

This beautiful town in Butte County, at the Northern end of the Central Valley, is home to the Maidu People. With the California State University Chico campus just 20 miles down the road, Oroville usually takes a backseat when it comes to protest actions.

That is, except when water is involved.

A group of nearly 50 water protectors from various California and non-California Nations gathered during the heights of the NoDAPL protests to voice their concerns about the pipeline and its potential to negatively impact the Missouri River corridor. The project, a proposed 1,172-mile-long oil conduit, would run through the heart of the Midwest and mid-southern states, affecting tribes as well as the pristine plains and woodlands in its path.

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The Maidu know the cost of losing access to clean water. During the Gold Rush, the Maidu and other Round Valley tribal members lost access to riparian fishing conditions as mining waste known as tailings ran down into the then pristine Feather River. The salmon, a life source for the Maidu and other California Native American nations, fell in numbers, and the tribes paid the ultimate price through disease and loss of access to water and healthy game. Now, only 150 some odd years out, scars and remnants of the Gold Rush days continue to haunt the local Native Americans.

Maidu water protectors stage NoDAPL action on the banks of the Feather River

Maidu NoDAPL water protectors on the banks of the Feather River in Oroville, California.

Look closely at the picture above; prior to contact, the Feather River flowed freely where the group is standing. In the hillside above them, one can still see the scarring left from buckets that were used to extract land in order to get at the gold there. These tangible signs are reminders of the genocide that happened in Northern California. The tribes still face many obstacles, but on Saturday October 15, at least for one day, most Oroville residents that passed by had a honk and a wave of solidarity for the protestors.

Over the course of the three-hour long action, water protectors held up signs, chanted and waved along a main traffic corridor in town. It is worth mentioning that the 25-mph winds and occasional driving rains did not deter anyone. The group was visited once, briefly, by a smiling member of the California Highway Patrol, who allegedly stopped by only to remind folks not to cross the road outside of the crosswalk. Organizers smiled right back and pressed on.

The group began the walk from the meeting site, and as they did, they bumped into a group of firemen and women from the local tribal firefighting contingent. The two groups, many of whom were family members, greeted each other warmly while continuing their respective missions; the volunteer firefighters and water protectors stood side by side in a mutual sign of how important water is to this part of the United States.

This is, after all, less than 20 miles from Lake Oroville, which became a symbol of how drought was affecting California when photos circulated showing the “bathtub ring” effect left on the receding waterway. The waters subsided enough to expose ancient Maidu fishing villages not seen since the 1800s.

Once the firefighters and marchers had parted ways, it was time to head toward the water. After a brief walk to River Bend Park, everyone reconvened on the shore. Standing in circle, community members shared stories of their trips to Standing Rock and their experiences there. Many were moved as one by one, the various water protectors shared their ties to the Standing Rock Reservation and their commitment to protecting the Missouri River, as well as waterways closer to home.

"I felt honored to have been a part of the march and prayer in Oroville in support of the Water Protectors in North Dakota,” said local ally Rain Aliza Scher. “I was glad to see so many people come out on a cold and windy day. The march focused on spreading the message of solidarity and at the end of it we sent out unified prayers. I hope to see more Native-led local events that unify Natives and non-Native allies to stand up for our mother earth and respect for tribal sovereignty."