February 24th, 2017 Last Updated on: January 19th, 2022
There are all kinds of emotions we as Native peoples are feeling right now. These emotions range from despair to rage, with all variations of motivation and shades of “what do I do now?” in between.
When our 45th president signed Executive Action to reinstate the plans for the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines on Jan 24th, some felt shock and anger. I went through all of these emotions. I had times where I would need to step out of my classroom at work as I watched my friends and relatives on live feed videos get shot at (with less than lethal bean bag rounds) and maced by brutal police. I felt embarrassed that these officers were defiling the name of officers everywhere who actually serve and protect, like my own father. Then, from the creeping feelings of despair and defeat, I felt the burning embers of motivation. Like coals under my feet, I found I could not stand still.
Then, from the creeping feelings of despair and defeat, I felt the burning embers of motivation. Like coals under my feet, I found I could not stand still.
I learned that my newly elected Congressman Ro Khanna, was planning a town hall on Feb 22nd at Ohlone College in Fremont CA. I sat down and wrote out a traditional introduction in Lakota. Then I wrote a 2-page statement on the situation the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux faced against the DAPL, and planned to ask Mr. Khanna how he planned to assist cities in divesting their funds from banks that support the pipeline.
I wore my ribbon skirt, my feathers, and the beaded necklace I made for my son. His medallion is of a bear paw, and I needed every ounce of bravery I could muster. I carried a bear claw and a small amount of tobacco in my pocket and waited outside the town hall to get in.
I shivered, partly because of the cold, but also partly because those coals of motivation burned hotter beneath my feet. When this feeling happens inside me, I know it’s my Creator telling me I have to do something because He makes it impossible to ignore.
The RSVP to the Town Hall read 120 would show…over 1,000 people came. There were so many people they needed 4 overflow rooms. I saw Mr. Khanna walk by and he stopped to shake my hand. I held his hand with both of mine and asked him if he would give me time to ask him a very important question. He looked me in the eyes and said “Yes. Absolutely.” I made it into the last room and sat in a seat beside two of my friends who came with me. We waited 2 hours because Mr. Khanna took great care to visit every room and give time and attention to the people who came. We had about 150 people in our room. After a few people were called on to speak, I could see Mr. Khanna look at me and I raised my hand. He called on me and I stood to speak. I was so glad I chose to write down what I wanted to say because I was so nervous.
Mr. Khanna stood very still, and respectfully listened to every work I read. I began with a traditional Lakota introduction, followed by acknowledging that I was speaking on Muwekma Ohlone land, and I gave thanks to the Ohlone for the space to speak on a Lakota issue on their land. There were no tribal members present, but I felt it was important to honor the tribe. I gave a brief overview of the final easement that was granted by the Army Corps of Engineers and ended my statement by asking Mr. Khanna how he planned to assist the cities within his district with divesting their funds from banks who support the DAPL. He responded very candidly, and with real emotion. He was horrified at the continued construction of the pipeline and the blatant disregard for the need of an Environmental Impact Report. He had planned to visit Standing Rock and the surrounding camps, and committed to visiting with city councils to urge them to divest their funds and to again state his disapproval with the DAPL. I believe he means to do this. I did not get the “politician” feeling from Mr. Khanna when he spoke to me. You could tell that specific issues weighed very heavy on him, including the travel ban on Muslims, and issues surrounding global warming.
To anyone reading this wondering “What can I do? What do we do now?” the answer is this…
You do whatever you can. Step out of your comfort zone.
Find out when your city council meets, mine meets weekly and has open minutes for city residents to address the council. I plan on attending every week until they agree to divest funds from their banks who support the pipeline.
I may be one person, but what this Town Hall meeting showed me is that even as one person, I can make a difference. I can reach out and touch the emotions of another and urge them to hear me. Be the difference.
“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” -Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax
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