By Mervin Brass 

(Near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, ND) – James Comegan and Amy Handorgan drove close to 1,800 kilometres to join thousands of other Indigenous people support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its defence of the Missouri River from a multi-million dollar pipeline project that’s proposed to cross close to the reservation.

Comegan and Handorgan are from the Big Grassy First Nation in western Ontario, close to the Manitoba border.

“We’re out here to support the cause, the environmental impacts that’s going to be caused by this proposed pipeline,” says Comegan. “What are they going to have, another break in the pipeline just like they did in the North Saskatchewan River. I think this is an awakening of our people with their beliefs and our responsibility to mother earth. I think its spiritual in nature, it’s not anything different from the past. It’s an awakening, we are standing up now, all the nations are coming together. ”

Handorgan says she and Comegan decided to make the trip on the spur of the moment saying they wanted to join some friends who were traveling to Standing Rock.

“To me, as an Anishnabe-que, we have teachings about that. Our role is to pray and to protect the water because water is life. Without water we wouldn’t have life, so we have to do that work, lift the water, pray to it, sing to it, talk to it, so it’s healed, healthy and clean for the people that are here right now and the ones that are coming.”

For several weeks, Indigenous tribes from across North America have come to join a growing encampment 100 feet across the northern border of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation along Highway 1806.

The main area of the camp consists of a makeshift kitchen, first aid station, a supply and registration tent and a place for speakers to address the residents and their visitors.

Matthew Coon Come

Former Assembly of First Nations Chief, Matthew Coon Come told the crowd it took him three days to travel from his home to Standing Rock. He also told them how his people won a battle against government and industry when they stopped the second Great Whale Project in the 1970s.

“There comes a time in each First Nation to take a stand, no matter what the critics say that it cannot be done,” says Grand Chief of the Quebec Cree, Matthew Coon Come. “The success of my nation is because we learned to stand in unity.”

The former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) told the story about how the Quebec Cree stopped the second Great Whale project in northern Quebec.

“One day the government decided to dam our rivers in what they called the ‘Project of the Century.’ It was the largest project of its time in the 70’s. It would displace us, marginalize us and destroy a way of life. And they succeeded in the first round,” says Coon Come. “In the second round they wanted to build the Great Whale River project. That first project was neatly exempted from any environmental impact assessment. Does that sound familiar? That first project never bothered to seek our consent, our involvement.”

When the second Great Whale project was announced Coon Come and his people said enough is enough.

He told the crowd sometimes you need to get out of your reservation to take your story to the international forums and call for an independent impact assessment.

“Even our own people told us you cannot fight against governments, you cannot fight against the corporations, it cannot be done,” Coon Come tells the crowd. “But when you believe in your heart, when you know your identity, when you know who you are, when you know your own culture, when you know your own way of life, one has to stand up to be able to speak for the land, to speak for the water.”

Following Coon Come’s speech, three Anishnabe women spoke to the crowd offering their support and prayers in their defense of the water.

Other tribes have been sending their support to the Standing Rock Sioux either in cash donations, food and water.

On Saturday, a truck with a trailer filled with flats of water arrived at the encampment. The donation came from a Swedish family that neighbours the reservation.

Margaret Grady says the government took away the large water tanks and stopped servicing the portable toilets.

Grady arrived in camp last Monday the same day as the American Indian Movement (AIM).

She says it was powerful to watch AIM arrive in solidarity helping the people put a halt to the pipeline describing how “a Sioux woman stood in front of a bulldozer and shut it down.”

Grady is from Fort Berthold near Newtown, North Dakota.

“I’m here because my grandkids are Sioux,” she says. “Water is sacred and so are our children.”

The pipeline is proposed to cross underneath the river about a half mile north of the encampment along Highway 1806. This is the place where the people made their stand halting construction.

All along a fence hang flags from the various Indigenous nations that support the people from Standing Rock.

“It is just so awesome that so many people are supporting us, so many tribes that have come and shown their support,” says Garrett Lee. “They know that we are fighting for the cause to have safe water for ourselves and our future generations.”

Lee is from Cheyenne River and calls Eagle Butte South Dakota home.

He guesses that nearly every tribe in the United States has a flag hanging along the fence.

On September 14, 2016, a federal judge in Washington D.C. will make a ruling whether or not to permanently stop construction on the pipeline.

The $3.8 billion project is proposed to run nearly 1,900 kilometres crossing through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit says the project violates several federal laws including the National Historic Preservation Act. The lawsuit also argues the project will harm water supplies and disturb their sacred sites located outside of their reservation.

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