After a 2,000-mile journey, a group of 30 spirited young people from the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota ran, in the rain, to the steps of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C., on Saturday (August 6) to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) — and they brought a petition with over 160,000 signatures with them.
Actress Shailene Woodley, who participated in part of the run to D.C., joined the Oceti Sakowin for Saturday’s rally in Washington. But their journey didn’t end there; following their rally in D.C., these kids then ran to New York City to protest the DAPL in Union Square.
For weeks, the young people of Stand Rock Reservation ran along the path of the proposed pipeline to bring awareness to their cause. They’ve garnered support from celebrities, including Woodley, Rosario Dawson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and big-screen superhero Ezra Miller.
“I’m in such awe of these kids,” Miller told MTV News. “I would really love to join them as they run up to the gates of the White House and demand that they be heard. But I’m here in London working on the Justice League, so I can’t. To me, these kids are the real Justice League. They’re doing something incredibly self-sacrificial and brave to stand up for something that they believe in, which is a matter of survival.
At a time when the very validity of our democracy on the American mainland seems questionable, when our political process itself seems like a maniacal, confused, and potentially fraudulent one, it seems like these young kids — some of them are as young as 10 — are standing up for the most basic resource: water.”
The DAPL would cross the Missouri River, which is less than a mile away from the reservation. The proposed 1,172-mile pipeline would transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois. All that crude oil could potentially contaminate the Missouri River — and threaten the livelihoods and health of those surrounding it, including the Oceti Sakowin people who live on the reservation. In fact, if a spill does happen, it would only take five minutes for their only water source to become polluted.
“It’s them now, but it will be many more people soon,” Miller said of the plight of the people of Standing Rock Reservation and those who live along the proposed pipeline. “We’ve seen it in Michigan, and we’re going to see it all over the world, this crisis as we run out of our most basic resources as a result of the havoc that the fossil fuel industry has wrecked on us. These companies will keep coming back for the frail and few resources we have left, and a lot of those resources will be on the lands of indigenous people.”
Yet Native people’s voices have been silenced by years of marginalization. They’ve been radically othered in our society, which has made it extremely difficult for groups like the Oceti Sakowin to have their voices heard.
“The Native American population of our country endures incredible struggles and hardships,” Miller said. “I’ve been going to the Standing Rock Reservation for a few years — it’s one of my favorite places in the world — and what’s amazing is that you have this story that could be told, of centuries of violence and oppression that continues to this very day, and then there's this other story of a people on the American mainline who through all of that chaos has maintained their traditional practices and wisdom.
In many ways, whether you’re seeing it as the people you should listen to the most because they have been the most downtrodden in our society, or it’s the people we should listen to because they are the human beings who are actually original to the land that we live on, it means the same thing: We, as a society at large, have been completely disregarding these people, and that now threatens all of our lives.”
Just as their Native ancestors before them would send runners to communicate between tribes, the youth of Standing Rock Reservation decided to take matters into their own hands and run for change. Miller is one of the 160,000 who have helped amplify their voices. Now, it’s up to the United States Army Corps of Engineers to respect the Native people’s concerns.
“I’m reaching out to the hearts of the people in this corporate body,” Miller said, “and to the people in the federal government, and simply asking, ‘If we can’t stand in support of these kids who have run from North Dakota to the White House, then what validity do we have as a nation?’”
With reporting by Josh Horowitz