In response to a memorandum issued by President Donald Trump on Tuesday which advanced construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, the Michigan Indigenous Action Collective held a protest and march Friday evening aiming to initiate political action against the administration’s actions.
The protest — which began on the Diag with nearly 200 students, faculty and community members — featured a series of speakers, song performances and round dances, before a march to the federal building. There, organizers of the event gave more information on further action participants could take.
The Dakota Access pipeline, which could pass underneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, was denied approval in December of last year by the United States Army Corps of Engineers following months of protest by demonstrators camping on the reservation. Trump’s memorandum overturns this decision.
LSA senior Rebecca Lynn, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa, an Anishinaabe tribe in Northern Michigan, spoke to the crowd gathered on the Diag of her experience demonstrating in Standing Rock.
“In eight short days I saw a lot of violence,” Lynn said. “We were constantly under surveillance of the police and Dakota Access security… They were sending us a message: ‘We see you, we are watching you, you are not safe’… I say this not to instill fear but to illustrate the real danger water protectors are facing every day in North Dakota.”
Last year’s decision to halt pipeline construction may have dissuaded this feeling of danger among environmental and Native American rights activists, but Trump’s actions have sown new doubts, Shandiin Church, a graduate student in the school of social work who helped organize the event, said.
“There are a lot of groups that are feeling uncertain about the new presidency and the administration and what’s to come forward,” Church said. “We, as indigenous, first nation people are also in that group that is questioning what is going to happen.”
Church also described the protest as a space for non- natives to stand in solidarity.
LSA senior Alex Kime echoed Church’s sentiments and said he was glad to see the event run by individuals with firsthand experience.
“I am exceedingly glad that it was run by people who are from First Nations tribes,” Kime said. “I think that is really essential. There is a tendency sometimes in protests for people who are privileged to let their anger allow them to speak over people.”
Among the calls to action, speakers at the protest recommended calling senators and representatives, as well as the candidates for Michigan’s gubernatorial elections in 2018. In Michigan, the Nexus and line 5 pipelines, which are in various stages of construction and upkeep in Ypsilanti and the Mackinac straits respectively, are a particular flashpoint for water activists. Organizers asked participants in the protest to demand from the candidates to commit to shut down these projects.
“Stopping line 5 is a huge deal, that’s the land of my people the land of my ancestors and it’s important that we take care of it and that it’s not gonna come back,” Lynn said. “Water is life, and the Lakota people [in North Dakota] are willing to die out there for protecting their water, protecting their land, protecting their livelihood. We’re not gonna stop fighting.”