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Standing Rock in Europe: Native Artists Bringing NoDAPL to Paris

Last month, musical artists Sihasin (Jeneda and Clayson Benally, formerly of Blackfire) and 25-year-old hip-hop artist and filmmaker Nataanii Means brought awareness to the situation in Standing Rock to Paris, France with a performance at the Indigenous Peoples day organized by CSIA-Nitassinan in Paris.

The three then sat down with Indian Country Today to share their views on stereotypes, culture, identity and earth protection. “We are all brothers,“ said Clayson. Jeneda added, “we are all Indigenous, as we all have the same mother.”

Sihasin Poster

NATAANII MEANS

You just arrived from Standing Rock: what is the situation there?

The camp is getting bigger every day: 300 Indigenous nations are now on site, people of all ages. A school has opened: the children do not take part in protest actions, but attend prayers. We are winterizing our camp, and have received support from Russia. We are now building tipi poles; people are hunting.

Many counsels on the camp are supporting us, and organizations like “Environmental Indigenous Network,” “Honor the Earth,” founded by Winona LaDuke, who fought against Keystone XL, are there.

What has been happening in terms of the Dakota Access Pipeline building effort?

They have desecrated our ancestor’s burials and prayer sites and dug up remains by going through sacred sites. They are destroying Mother Earth: what could happen if the pipeline breaks underneath the Missouri river and leak will affect eighteen million people, animal, and natural life.

Extracting oil will harm the food, the plants, the weather. I grew up on the Navajo nation, where uranium pits are opened; you cannot drink water from the faucet.

You mentioned a blackout by the mainstream media.

Yes, major news networks and banks invested in the pipeline cannot jeopardize their investments. Though this is the largest Indian gathering since George Custer [rode into Greasy Grass], and the police are armed with assault weapons and are pointing them at older women in prayer, or children — you never see that in the mainstream media.

What was the worst violence people have faced?

The dog attacks: they released them on the unarmed protectors, such as women, children, men and horses. They maced us so we could not see the dogs coming. However, everybody is fired up. Our people’s ability to stand up and fight back has never been suppressed.

What about you?

I found a new strength inside myself, to be present, protect the water and fight for everybody else -- as it is not just a Native American issue, it concerns everyone.

The Pawnee and Lakota have a past of fighting, but are now together for solidarity: hundreds of years of rivalry is ending with the fight for the water.

Can the citizens of Europe help?

Yes: by standing in solidarity, and writing a resolution to Standing Rock Sioux Nation. People can write or post to social media: “We stand with you.” I urge people to donate warm clothing, help us to fight, or go to Standing Rock, where a unique, and beautiful event is happening.

Are you going back?

Yes. I will stay and do anything I can to spread awareness. I know we are going to stop [that pipeline].

CLAYSON AND JENEDA - SIHASIN

What is the story of your rock band, Sihasin?

Jeneda: As traditional people, there is no separation between art and sacred life ways: we grew up with our father singing all night long during healing ceremonies and celebrations. So, it was natural for us to integrate our traditional knowledge into a contemporary musical group: we wanted to share our culture and break down stereotypes, and having a rock band is a way to empower the youth, as our songs address positive changes.

Clayson: There is not a separation between tradition and modernity: when you know who you are and what your foundation is, it empowers you, as you know where you are going. And we are blessed as our father, a beautiful example, showed us the way.

What about your Ashkenazi roots?

Jeneda: I grew up in my Dine culture, as our mother, Berta, moved to the reservation, so I do not have that Jewish foundation. But we went to Bialystok, Poland to search our cultural roots; and I wanted to have a connection with that side of my identity.

Clayson: I saw the swastikas, the Nazi influence there: in my maternal grandfather’s village, everything was torn down. It was heartbreaking. My grandfather, who came to Germany during the Russian Revolution, talked to us about his past, so the Jewish Ashkenazi tradition is inseparable from us; it is my mother’s lineage, and I acknowledge it. But Dine’ means people: we are all brothers and sisters, all connected. We all belong to this earth: the connection to the earth and the family is where our home is.

How do you feel about this Paris event in solidarity with Standing Rock?

Clayson: We are honored to be here this evening in solidarity with Standing Rock. We have been in the battle for sacred sites since many years: for the San Francisco Peaks, which inter connects with other threatened sacred sites, and the Standing Rock water issue. So, to be able to share our culture, explain the Standing Rock and San Francisco Peaks issues, and be with our father, to show that we carry on, is great.

Jeneda: Traveling to share our culture as Dine, as the Jones family, and as Sihasin, whether in the United States or elsewhere, is a privilege: to break down stereotypes, stop racism, prejudices, and build understanding, respect. This is very important to me. Our culture is alive. It is not a history book, a fantasy, a John Wayne’s movie: it is breathing, and adapts. So, we use contemporary tools, remembering, and carrying on the traditional essence of who we are as Indigenous peoples.

Whoever we are, we are all Indigenous, as we all share the same Mother, Mother Earth.