By Kelly Anne Smith
NORTH BAY—A group of about 75 people gathered on North Bay’s Waterfront Bandshell September 30, to support Standing Rock Sioux Nation through ceremony, Elders teachings, and a water walk.
Many North American First Nations have descended on the North Dakota plains to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline that will run about a kilometre from the Standing Rock. It could cross beneath the Missouri river threatening their precious drinking water. Sacred burial sites are at risk as well.
There has been little corporate media coverage as many people have been arrested in the showdown.
The North Dakota reservation calls the pipeline a blatant disregard to the United Nations International Declaration of Indigenous Rights.
A Canadore College student organized the community rally. Kat Quinney-Goodleaf is Mohawk and Cree and a student of Aboriginal Wellness and Addiction Prevention at Canadore College. She wanted to show support.
“I’ve been following what has been going on with them. It’s not just Aboriginals,” stated Quinney-Goodleaf. “Everybody needs clean drinking water. It’s not a protest. People need clean drinking water.”
Members of Nipissing First Nation and the North Bay Indian Friendship Centre, along with high schools, college, and university students assembled by the band shell.
Many of the participants were wearing orange to create awareness for orange shirt day. The day remembers Residential School Survivors. At just six-years-old, Phyllis Jack Webstad had her brand new orange shirt seized on the first day of school. The one her grandmother had bought for her.
On the grass under a warm September sun, Lorraine Liberty-Whiteduck conducted an opening prayer and smudge. “I will always be Anishnabie Quae. I say Miigwetch to this beautiful day and send out our voices in that way for Nibii, this water.” Offering tobacco to the earth, she gave thanks to those that went before us who took care of the water.
Liberty-Whiteduck is a woman of the water that carries water teachings.
“Thanks for our Nibii. Thanks for your time and for your responsibility of being water protectors,” she said to all in the circle. “We send our Universal Water Song [to North Dakota]. Water, I love you; Water, I thank you; Water, I respect you.”
As women sang the Universal Water Song, a participant was overcome with grief. Later, I asked her why she wept. “We have to take care of the water and I’m thankful our people are standing up for it. I wish I could go to Standing Rock,” she responded.
Pamela Baker is also known as Anpa O Wiconkoi, which means morning star. She had war paint on her face.
“It is for my ancestral background. My homeland is North Dakota and I’m from Manitoba so my blood line runs to that land,” stated Baker. “It is not only for now but for the future.”
During Circle, Baker stepped forward to speak. “Each and every one of you, we are all warriors, standing here together to create change.”
An Ontario Human Rights Commissioner, Maurice Switzer, carried the Two Row Wampum Belt on his right shoulder. As he held up the belt of promise, he said, “This is one of the first agreements between European settlers and First Peoples. Water is so sacred.”
Switzer explained that the two rows represent Europeans and Indigenous Nations. The white background on the belt represents the river of life, water.
Switzer told the crowd it is important to speak up about justice for the earth.
“The people, not just at Standing Rock, but people in this country now, like in British Columbia, are breaking these promises,” stated Switzer. “They are destroying our being. They are destroying the sustenance that is keeping us alive.”
Former Nipissing First Nation Chief Marianna Couchie declared her support.
“I am pleased to be with you today. Remember our responsibility to the earth. Water is so important and as you see on the banner there, you can’t drink oil,” noted Couchie. “As past Chief of Nipissing First Nation, water, this lake, is so important to us. We stand with [Standing Rock Sioux Tribe] today. They have every right to say no.”
Couchie then called for a peaceful demonstration.
A spontaneous walk for the water was quickly organized. The walkers proceeded along Memorial Drive, heading to the underpass to march toward downtown and loop back to the band shell at Lake Nipissing. The group shouted, “Water is life!”