“One does not sell the land people walk on.” ~ Crazy Horse
Before the Europeans arrived in North America, it is estimated that anywhere from 1.2 million to 12 million Native Americans—known as the Algonguian peoples—inhabited and rooted themselves deeply in the land.
Sadly, the population of these Native Americans was reduced to 250,000, due to genocide, imported disease, slavery and suicide—and along with their deaths, much of their spiritual history was also lost.
Native American’s have always been connected to, and in alignment with, Mother Earth, and they are often referred to as the “Keepers of the Earth,” being taught to as children to walk lightly upon it, in peace and harmony with everything that existed.
Currently however, the Standing Rock Sioux’s Indian tribe are far from experiencing harmony due to the construction work of an oil pipeline, estimated to be worth approximately $3.7 billion dollars. If the work goes ahead, the intentions are for the pipeline to carry oil north of Standing Rock land in North Dakota through to Illinois in the United States.
The project, which is being led by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, would then see the 1,100-mile pipeline connecting to an existing pipeline so that it can route crude oil directly to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast. It is believed that pipelines are safer than trains for transporting oil.
However, the problem is that this pipeline is reported to be running through the Native American’s sacred burial grounds and prayer sites—and not only that, it potentially poses a risk to their water supply, if the pipe leaks. Approximately 8,000 native tribe members reside in North Dakota—and many of them have formed an alliance with other tribe members and supporters—and have set up temporary residence at the construction site to peacefully protest. (Although, they have already been faced with violence, when dogs and pepper spray were used to attempt to cause the tribe to dissipate and break up.)
It is essential to keep this protest in the spotlight, as the tribe needs the world’s eyes open, so that we can see the suffering they have endured for far too many years, as well as what they are about to go through to (once again) protect their culture and historic land.
Here are a few quotes from Native Americans, which give an insight into their beliefs and explain what earth, nature and their ancestors mean to them:
“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” ~ Massasoit
“How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.” ~ Chief Seattle
“The ground on which we stand is sacred ground. It is the blood of our ancestors.” ~ Chief Plenty Coups, Crow
“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun. Will we let ourselves be destroyed in our turn without a struggle, give up our homes, our country bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit, the graves of our dead and everything that is dear and sacred to us? I know you will cry with me, ‘Never! Never!’” ~ Tecumseh Shawnee
“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.” ~ Qwatsinas, Nuxalk Nation
“We have found that no modern prescriptions heal the human heart so fully or so well as the prescription of the Ancient Ones. ‘To the hills,’ they would say. To which we would add, ‘To the trees, the valleys, and the streams, as well.’ For there is a power in nature that man has ignored. And the result has been heartache and pain.” ~ Anasazi Foundation
“The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. The earth is sacred and men and animals are but one part of it. Treat the earth with respect so that it lasts for centuries to come and is a place of wonder and beauty for our children.” ~ extract from Chief Seattle.
“We know our lands have now become more valuable. The white people think we do not know their value; but we know that the land is everlasting, and the few goods we receive for it are soon worn out and gone.” ~ Canassatego
“If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade. Where I choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.” ~ from Chief Joseph, Nez Perces
“Our land is everything to us…I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember that our grandfathers paid for it – with their lives.” ~ John Wooden Legs, Cheyenne
“My Father, we have sold you a great tract of land already; but it is not enough! We sold it to you for the benefit of your children, to farm and to live upon. We have now but a little left. We shall want it all for ourselves. We know not how long we shall live, and we wish to leave some lands for our children to hunt upon. You are gradually taking away our hunting grounds. Your children are driving us before them. We are growing uneasy. What lands you have you may retain. But we shall sell no more” ~ Metea, a Potowatami chief of the Illinois nation
“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” ~ Tribe Unknown
“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” ~ Dakota
“It is no longer good enough to cry peace, we must act peace, live peace and live in peace.” ~ Shenandoah
“Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it.” ~ Arapho
“Children, language, lands: almost everything was stripped away, stolen when you weren’t looking because you were trying to stay alive. In the face of such loss, one thing our people could not surrender was the meaning of land. In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital, or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us. Our lands were where our responsibility to the world was enacted, sacred ground. It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be bought or sold. These are the meanings people took with them when they were forced from their ancient homelands to new places.” ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” ~ Alanis Obomsawin
“The old people came literally to love the soil, and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth, and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soul was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. This is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.” ~ Chief Luther, Standing Bear
“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land and they took it. It was not hard to see that the white people coveted every inch of land on which we lived. Greed. Humans wanted the last bit of ground, which supported Indian feet. It was land—it has ever been land—for which the White man oppresses the Indian and to gain possession of which he commits any crime. Treaties that have been made are vain attempts to save a little of the fatherland, treaties holy to us by the smoke of the pipe – but nothing is holy to the white man. Little by little, with greed and cruelty unsurpassed by the animal, he has taken all. The loaf is gone and now the white man wants the crumbs.” ~ Chief Luther, Standing Bear
**Bonus—MLK quote: “Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
I gathered these quotes together to express a simple show of solidarity, as I believe that it is essential to speak out, rise and be counted whenever we see injustice in the world. I not only believe in the protests that are being carried out in North Dakota, but I also resonate strongly with the principles and practices that the Native Americans have upheld for centuries. These protests are not about claiming land, they are about guarding the remnants of their ancestors and their sacred history—and there seems nothing closer to the hearts of Native American’s than their culture and bloodlines.
Fortunately, Standing Rock are not standing alone, as over 200 different indigenous tribes—as well as people from all corners of the world—have stood up to support their cause, and there is hope that this will lead to a better and fairer future for all Native Americans. Standing Rock Sioux spokesman, Ron His Horse is Thunder, explained: “This is a new beginning, not just for our tribe, but for all tribes in this country,”
Although the construction work has been temporary halted, the battle here is far from over, and protestors have been busy erecting lodges, prepareing to endure a long winter guarding this area to ensure that construction does not destroy more of their sacred land.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina