The healing scent of burning sage and sweetgrass was in the air as members of the Pueblo of Sandia and other nations marched up Tribal Route 72 just north of Albuquerque on Wednesday September 14 in support of the protestors of the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. Shouts of “Water is Life” rang out as the people held up the eastbound lane with tribal police escorting them along the way.
News of the march spread through the Indian grapevine, and Native people from the surrounding communities—including Albuquerque, Bernalillo, and Santa Ana Pueblo—showed up in their traditional regalia holding signs of support, and with hand drums and plenty of prayers, smiles and laughter to go around. The people convened in the parking lot of the Sandia train stop for the Albuquerque/Santa Fe Railrunner, and the people of Sandia were given instructions not to speak to the media, who showed up despite the pueblo’s not seeking media publicity. Drivers honked and cheered as they passed the marchers.
“We are here to support our brothers and sisters in the North,” announced James McCook, a member of the Pueblo of Sandia who offered a blessing to the marchers before they hit the highway. The show of support was another indication that the #NODAPL movement is moving to a national and international level, with tribes from as far away as New Mexico paying close attention to the decisions being made by the courts, the Obama administration and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
“There’s actually quite a big turnout. I’m surprised by the amount of people who came out today,” said Demetrius Johnson, Navajo, president of the Kiva Club at the University of New Mexico, a club representing the American Indian and Alaska Native students on the UNM campus. “A lot of people are going to label this an indigenous issue or water rights issue. But to me it’s a life issue, and I think that’s why there’s so much support for this. When I went to Standing Rock, everyone said, ‘Water is Life,’ even in their own language.”
Despite the fact that the national media until recent weeks has generally ignored this indigenous protest and the deeper issues involved—specifically consultation with tribal governments as well as treaty rights—the word has gotten out through social media, and tribal people across the Americas are responding. There are various reasons that tribes far from Standing Rock are supporting the Dakota Access water protectors.
“What’s happening in the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation is fracking,” said Johnson, who grew up in Ganado, Arizona. “There’s the Piñon pipeline that’s going through the Navajo Nation at our emergence point. It’s a huge issue, so when you see something like this that is actually picking up momentum, you want to support it, because that might mean in the future that the same support will be there for us when we need it.”