IF the human race is going to turn this world around—from a self-destructive, suicidal, selfish existence to one that is built around life and balance—it will be indigenous mothers and grandmothers who make that happen.
Right now, it seems like self-destruction is winning. Although lots of people understand that we have to do something, many of us just aren’t sure exactly what to do. I think many people—including the members of the U.S. Senate and House who voted to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline—simply see the Keystone XL Pipeline as inevitable. It may be this year or 10 years from now but it’s simply gonna happen. Right?
“Heck, we all drive all over the place. Even the ones who say they hate these pipelines. Why not?”
Sure, there are a lot of people critiquing and protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline (meanwhile driving their fossil fuel burning cars to those protests), but there is not a ton of people proposing alternatives to burning tons of oil nor a lot of people who give historical context why it’s so important that this particular pipeline not happen. In that way, most of us come up short to a large degree when it comes to “fighting” oil. I’ve been personally conflicted about that for years—“How do I say I hate big oil when I purchase it everyday?” All of us use it and we all benefit from it, even those of us who write articles railing against the Keystone XL Pipeline and say we’re declaring war.
All of us.
And in that way, it seems like we all—even the ones who say they’re against these pipelines and exploitation of resources—are bent upon self-destruction.
But just when it seems like self-destruction might win, the indigenous mothers speak up and remind us about the importance of life and balance. Those indigenous mothers assume their position as keepers of hope and wisdom as it relates to the mother of all life—Earth.
'Winona and Faith' by John Isaiah Pepion, pepionledgerart.com
It was in that context that I had the privilege to meet Faith Spotted Eagle, an amazing and inspiring woman, mentor, teacher and hellraiser. I first met Faith when she generously invited me to a working group on the Ihanktonwan (Yankton) Homelands and she asked me to share anything that I could about legal strategies that could be useful in fighting man camps. Faith has been involved in grassroots work for decades and her organization, Braveheart Society, has been instrumental in many areas: battling for environmental justice within Native communities, healing survivors of sexual violence and utilizing our ceremonies to fight historical trauma.
Right now is a key moment in the Keystone XL fight. Although I truly believe the President will veto this bill (it's already passed through the Senate and House), the simple fact that it passed through the Senate and House should be cause for serious concern. “A lot of people are ok with this.” It is within this framework that I was excited to hear some motherly wisdom and historical context from Faith.
The work definitely seems daunting, but I’ve seen indigenous mothers in action enough to know that I’m always gonna roll with them. They will win.
Please enjoy the interview.
Hi Faith. Thank you for speaking to me. Could you please give the readers a bit of background on you and also on the Braveheart Society? Why did this Society come about and what does it do?
Brave Heart Society is a 20 year old revived Dakota Society on the Ihanktonwan homelands. Originally this Society existed to take care of the dead and dying on the battlefield. We have done that actually in a NAGPRA case on our homelands in 1999-2000…Now, we do it symbolically by bringing back our people from emotional death suffered through the great impact of historical trauma. We call back their spirits so they can stand in full spirit and then began the journey home to their “hocoka” or center.We have revived many of our gender based traditional rites of passage for youth to find their rightful places in this world in a healthy manner. Our Society has the basic principles of a Dakota society that exists to bring balance where unbalance has occurred, to resolve conflict, preserve culture and language and assure a place for our grandchildren in the future. We refuse to replicate neo-capitalism and strive to not be oppressed by colonizing processes, including not taking federal funds. We have a 50 year strategic plan in order to accomplish that. In order to be on our governing board one has to be a grandmother—as we value wisdom and experience.
A lot of your recent focus has gone toward fighting man camps that spring up around these oil ventures and also toward fighting survivors of sexual violence. Is there a connection between those things—oil exploitation and sexual violence?
There is a correlation between sexual violence and oil development and beyond. History teaches us that during times of crisis, violence escalates. Hence, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek and Whitestone massacres in the 1800s and even in the 1970s. In 1974, there was a crisis in South Dakota with the second Wounded Knee incident whereby it became unsafe to travel in the bordertowns surrounding the reservations. Consequently I was in the company of five young Native students who were attacked by five non-Native males, and I had my leg broken—yes, my leg was broken. It sounds unreal, but racism continues to exist in this land, where the war against Natives never really ended.
"Racism continues to exist in this land, where the war against Natives never really ended."
Do you think that the healing that has to happen to our Earth is related to the healing that happens to the survivors of sexual violence?
The ONLY WAY to get out of this assault on Mother Earth is through prayer, healing and unification among races and various populations, public outcry and the assertion of both our treaty rights and our reserved rights, even in unceded territories. We are occupied peoples but maintain our tie to the land and that makes us sovereign with the earth and all living things.
Do you feel like the men who are assaulting and digging in the Earth every single day are more likely to commit violent assaults against women?
Men who are digging and fracking in the earth are in a state of domestication by oil companies and their need for money. Capitalism is their god, and it takes no prisoners. And really why would these men care about assaulting the earth, when they don’t live there and will leave as soon as their jobs end? A KXL person told me that they would be there a short 18 months and my response is: If a woman or man gets raped during that 18 months, the trauma doesn’t end after 18 months—it lasts a lifetime. It is a biological phenomenon that when there are an overabundance of men with no relationship to women, physical needs are still in existence and when combined with drugs, alcohol and loneliness, it is frightening—for any person's daughter, niece , granddaughter, or even wife.
Why are you so dead-set against the Keystone XL Pipeline? Is it just this one, or is it other pipelines as well?
As a grandmother and Chair of the Ihanktonwan Treaty Council I am deeply opposed to the intrusion into our land of the Ft. Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868. The supremacy clause of the US Constitution states that treaties are the supreme law of the land. And Mother Earth’s Laws are stronger! Without water there is no life. These pipelines, fracking and uranium development are polluting the Mni Wiconi—the water of life, the Missouri River and her tributaries. The Ogallala Aquifer is also being threatened by pollution. The Oceti Sakowin depends on these water sources for the lives of our families. We also speak for the “wamakanskan” or the animal and plant nation who cannot speak for themselves. WE will not stand by and watch the potential destruction of endangered species who are indeed our relatives such as: the Whooping and Sandhill Cranes, the Swift Fox, the Burying Dung Beetle, certain species of bats and the Pallid Sturgeon and Piping Plover. Our children are just as endangered as these species and we will not allow human beings to appoint themselves as organizers of ecosystems that are thousands of years old.
"Capitalism is their god, and it takes no prisoners."
Not to ask obvious questions, but is the Senate's approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline—thus leaving it up to President Obama to veto—a big blow to the movement?
The soap opera that is being played out in the congressional halls of D.C. is a peek into the power of big oil lobbyists upon legislators who have completely lost touch with their constituencies. We are encouraged that several Democratic legislators are coming to their senses due to the outrageous behaviors of the Republican party. We believe that the spirit of our prayers is still moving and will continue into the generations to come, just as we stand on the prayers of our ancestors. The spirit is moving and we will continue to prevail in our fight to defend Mother Earth. This defense of Mother Earth has brought together unprecedented alliances of parties that we never dreamed would be on the same side.
We continue to send prayers, letters, emails and phone calls to encourage President Obama to stand strong with his veto power.
Finally, what’s next? The Senate approved the plan. I suspect Obama will veto it. But it's like a hydra: every time we cut off one its heads, another two grow back. Do you have any ideas how the average person—me, others who are not in South Dakota or Nebraska—how we can help fight this?
What can others do to help in this battle? I think that a lot of activity has been initiated through constant Facebook petitions, comments, direct actions by cooperating parties and articles like you are doing now. The power of social media is unprecedented. The Ihanktonwan are proud of our INTERNATIONAL TREATY TO PROTECT THE SACRED AGAINST KXL AND TARSANDS THAT WAS SIGNED ON JANUARY 25, 2015 in cooperation with the Oglala Lakota, the Southern Ponca, the Lummi Nation, the Tusula leituth Nation and six First Nations of Canada in 2013-14. WE pledge to create indigenized standards and direct actions to stop the destruction of our homelands. Continue to attend our conferences, direct actions and prayer rallies in the Oceti Sakowin—it is having an affect.
In our tribal culture we have stories about a being called “eya” who comes to devour camps periodically throughout the ages and this oil development is the modern day “eya”. WE have defeated eya before and we will do so again.
I personally believe in this fight for my children and grandchildren and because of a vivid clear dream that I received from my maternal grandmother in 2012. Her name was Lillian Ree and she was the granddaughter of my grandfather who signed the 1858 Treaty that created our Ihanktonwan reservation. She said in the dream “there is something in the treaty that you need to follow.”
This story was originally published February 13, 2015.
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories