by Kelsey Hamlin
“Every single tribe, they’re gems to our community and to our state” said Peggen Frank of Northern Arapaho and Oglala Lakota Tribes. “There’s no media coverage. They’re missing the point, not showing the real pictures. [The North Dakota Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and supporting Native Americans] are not protesters, they’re protectors.”
Many of the protectors wore red at Friday’s march because it’s the color of the earth — Mother Earth — the color of blood, and water. And, sure enough, the earth seems to be bleeding as the North Dakota Access Pipeline plans on forging 470,000 barrels of oil a day right under the Missouri River.
Frank herself had traveled with the local Nisqually Tribe to North Dakota, joining Standing Rock. She wanted to make it clear that Standing Rock and supporting Native Americans are prayer-ful, and peaceful. No drugs, no alcohol, and no weapons are allowed at the campsite, she said.
Frank feels like broadcast news hasn’t covered what’s really happening with Dakota’s Standing Rock tribe. She and many others felt like there’s been a “media blackout.”
While Native Americans are fighting not only for the North Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to not pummel through their tribal land, they’re also fighting for everybody’s right to a healthy planet and drinkable water.
“I wasn’t surprised. These things have been happening,” said Jennifer Fuentes who is a part of the N’awakwa dancers in Seattle. She was conjoined with her 17 year-old daughter through a homemade banner tied to each of their backpacks.
Fuentes expressed that for a reason unknown, the horrors of DAPL on Native American soil — which, technically, is kind of all of America — has united indigenous peoples. She said it hasn’t just brought Native Americans together, but everyone in the indigenous community, like Pacific Islanders and Alaskans. For Fuentes, the solidarity has been unprecedented in its numbers.
“We’re being heard for the first time,” said her 17-year-old daughter, Iyanna. “I go to internet school so I can do things like this.”
“We’re getting to a place where we can make a difference,” added the older Fuentes.
The pair will join Standing Rock in two weeks. Fuentes is a trauma therapists, and hopes to offer her services when she arrives, but is open to whatever task is needed.
But traveling to Dakota to support the Standing Rock tribe appears to be somewhat of a luxury — not everyone is able to go.
Breana Commodore, a 15-year-old from Tukwila, said her Uncle Will is in Dakota.
“How are we just supposed to sit here,” she asked. “I want to go over there and help, but we don’t have the money for it. So we’re here today helping out.”
Stephanie Masterman, a 20-year-old Seattleite of the Alaskan Tlingit tribe, did go to join Standing Rock, however.
“The best way for me to explain what it’s like is I could feel the ancestors lift us up,” Masterman said.
She explained that water is the first life, when a woman gives birth to a baby. Water goes through everyone’s veins.
“We as Native people are stewards of the Earth,” Masterman said. “These insane people want to rape our Mother with drilling and fracking and mining. And when they do that, it hurts us; and when they do that, it hurts our future. The world needs us.”
Many of the protectors showed up with hand-held Native American drums: squashed cylinders without a base on one side and a deer hide stretched over the other. Though small, the drums reverberated through the air powerfully. Throughout the march and in between speeches, Native American drummers gathered in circles and sang in unison with their incredible voices and vowel-focused songs. A language beautiful even to ears that couldn’t understand it.
“Every drum has its own story,” explained Rebecca Remle. “A lot of us carry them as an extension of our voice.”
“The drum beat represents the heart of our Mother,” added Charles Fiddler. “So we’re giving our heart, our all.”
Next to Remle were her two sons, both busy restoring a pair of Native American drumsticks that got worn out over the course of the day. They quickly asked if I wanted to know how to make one: cover an end of the stick with a ball of fabric, put a piece of deer hide over it, and secure it with a string of sinew.
The drums they had, however, were created by Native American foster kids with whom Remle works.
A different drummer was off in the drum circle, a green-eyed, tall, 13 year-old with braces. While shy and clutching a drum to his chest at the moment, he had previously sang along beautifully when one of the first circles formed.
The boy was Kaiden Finkbonner of the Snoqualmish Lummi Tribe. He had first heard about Standing Rock’s situation against DAPL when the business hired security guards whose dogs attacked some of the protectors.
“It makes me upset for people getting attacked,” Finkbonner said, “over something they’ve had for a long time.”
He attends Kingston Middle School, and aside from some little children under three feet tall running around, Finkbonner seemed to be the youngest person in the crowd.
“It’s different,” he said of his age group. “Some Native kids see it as weird, acting on your own.”
Remle had explained that attending a public school can make a difference for Native American kids. Her oldest daughter had attended one and when her classmates found out she was Native American, they began hollering at her like an ‘Indian’ in the hallways.
“One of the first things they learn,” Remle said, “is if you want to be accepted in the western culture, you can’t be proud of yourself as a Native. I think our young people are stuck between two worlds…it’s hard for them to balance.”
Even while marching in downtown Seattle against DAPL, she was subjected to a bystander on the street yelling out “don’t you have enough?!” Remle said her sister had to hold her back.
“There’s this misconception that everyone has a rich casino,” Remle said. It’s a frequent but incredibly false stereotype of Native Americans. Native Americans who, by the way, once lived on the entire continent of America but were massacred and then told to go live on harsh land the government didn’t want — until they found out there was profitable oil there.
“Native Americans are hardly ever talked about,” Remle said of the school system.
But the fact is it’s broader than that. Native Americans are hardly ever talked about or considered in general when it comes to American dialogue. Despite this, a resolution was passed by the City of Seattle yesterday.
“The water is important and treaty rights are important,” Frank said. “Stop the black snake [the pipeline]. We can’t let this happen anymore. Our land is suffering. Mother Earth is suffering.”
Kelsey Hamlin is an intern with South Seattle Emerald this summer, and has worked with various Seattle publications. Currently, Hamlin is the President of the UW Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists, and has a second internship with KCTS 9. She finished an internship with The Seattle Times in March as an Olympia legislative reporter, and is a journalism major at the University of Washington, planning to double-major in Law, Societies & Justice (currently her minor). See her other work on her website, or find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin.