(Photo by Standing Rock #nodapl Stop Dakota Access Pipeline Facebook Page)
Back in April of 2016, people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe set up a small camp along the Cannonball River with a simple mission – to protect water, protect land, and protect their way of life. All of these things are being put in danger with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.The pipeline is a $3.8 billion project of the company, Energy Transfer Partners, that would cross the Missouri River to carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. If the pipeline were to ever break, (as pipelines do, all the time) it would be disastrous for not only the tribe, but anyone further downstream, as drinking water from the river would be seriously contaminated.
Over the next few months, more and more people slowly gathered at the camp. On September 2nd, The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed papers with an environmental law firm that provided evidence of sacred burial grounds that sit on the construction site. The very next day, September 3rd, Dakota Access workers began bulldozing the area. In an effort to save the site, protectors came and were met with the company’s private security force armed with pepper spray and guard dogs. The protectors stood their ground and moved forward together until the construction workers turned around. The bulldozing caused irreversible damage to ancient graves and prayer stones. The sacred site was lost to the greed of the oil industry.
Despite receiving very little mainstream media coverage, the events of this day caught the attention of Native Americans across the country and people all around the globe thanks to the use of social media. Videos and pictures of the attacks spread like wildfire, flooding Facebook and Twitter timelines. Chavez Ventura, a 17-year-old member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, was going about his daily life just like the rest of the world when he checked his phone. “I was home, hand mixing cement until we took a break. On Facebook, I saw videos showing how they [the protectors] were maced and attacked by dogs. It was brutal.”
After the events went viral, thousands of people from tribes across the country and around the world came to support the protest and more camps had to be made. Now people are sharing posts from the camp every day. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has shared press releases from their own Facebook page, and even the camp is running a page. Many native youth are sharing articles and voicing their support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline through Facebook posts and tweets. This is how 18-year-old Warren Mattias, another young member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, has kept up with news from the camp, “I learned about the protest through brief talks in my Native American History class until it really started to go viral. Recently, I’ve gotten every update on the pipeline through social media.” Ventura also uses the internet to keep up to date with what is happening at the camp, “I read articles on an app and I learn a lot through social media. I get updates of people getting arrested, to others being s-wagima (Tohono O’odham word meaning “industrious”), and people sharing songs and stories with each other.”
For native youth, our elders worry that we no longer care about the land or tradition. All the attention given to the Standing Rock protest shows that that could not be further from the truth. We care. Ventura expressed the frustration he felt when he saw the events from the day of desecration, “I was pissed, seeing people getting attacked. I wish I was there to be part of the movement. I send all respect and hope to them. If I was there I’d be ready to take mace, dog bites, harassment, everything. I’d stay and stand strong for what is right. I’m ready to go down for a good cause.” Mattias is also disappointed by the act, “This pipeline has caused so much violence. Innocent people are getting pepper sprayed, attacked by dogs, getting arrested just to prove their love to Mother Earth. We have to stop this pipeline.”
Since the fight against the pipeline went viral, protests in support of the fight have taken place all over the country for people that can’t go to the actual site. Many tribes have also made their way to Standing Rock. The Tohono O’odham Nation has organized a caravan that will travel to the site to deliver donations.
For youth of the 21st Century, the generations before us have criticized our use of social media, stating that it is merely a huge distraction. While that is true, it can be a waste of time (I don’t know how many dumb memes I’ve tagged my friends in), the attention being brought to the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline proves that the internet can be used as a great news source. Without the use of social media, the Standing Rock Sioux would be fighting a losing fight. Now we know we have a voice. We have more power than we know just in the palm of our hands. It’s time to use it.
Now that we know what we can do with the internet, we have to be careful to make sure that everything we’re sharing is legit. On Facebook, I recently shared a post of a picture from Standing Rock that turned out to be a picture of Woodstock.
— Jaymes Siquieros (@JaymesWith_a_Y) September 15, 2016
There have also been questionable twitter accounts lately. With the internet, we have more power than we know. But just like Peter Parker AKA Spiderman learned, “with great power comes great responsibility.”