Indigenous rights activist Eryn Wise learned some hard lessons while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in North Dakota two years ago and it has changed her perspective about the future.
“When I left Standing Rock, I didn’t have the rose-coloured glasses I did when I first got there,” said Wise. “I was going to stop a pipeline. Everyone is ready to stop a pipeline until they are at the blunt end of a rifle. Everyone is ready to stop a pipeline until they see someone’s arm being blown off. It’s all fun and games until you see your friends being thrown into dog kennels and marked with numbers.”
The LA-based activist was invited to speak Wednesday during the annual general meeting of the Wellington Water Watchers. The topic of her speech, Defend It Yourself: Storytelling in Extractive Environments, focused on her experiences organizing indigenous youth at Standing Rock and her ongoing work with the organization Seeding Sovereignty.
Her speech was laced with satirical wit and, at times, was even funny but beneath the surface she seethed with moral outrage at the power structures that deny constitutionally guaranteed treaty rights to indigenous people and perpetuate white privilege. No one was spared from her ire, not even the predominately white assembly of water activists that invited her to speak.
“This land is not your land,” said Wise. “This water is not your water. These resources are not your resources. I want to be brutally honest with you and let you know that pipelines and extractive industries that exist are killing indigenous people at an exponential rate.”
Wise encouraged people to ally with indigenous groups to protect water and other natural resources
“This is a mostly non-native, non-people-of-colour room,” she said. “Everyone should be thinking about how, not only are you going to be an ally, but how you are going to be an accomplice because the time for ally ship has passed.”
Wise, in collaboration with Six Nations and Haudenosaunee Youth have invited members from Wellington Water Watchers and other waters rights groups as well as the general public to attend two events Saturday.
The Ohneganos Ohnegahde: GYO Water is Life Prayer Run will take place on the 4th Line in Ohsweken between 10 a.m. and noon Saturday.
The second event, a Say No to Nestle Action march begins at the Puslinch Community Centre in Aberfoyle at 2 p.m. and ends outside the Nestle bottling plant at 3 p.m.
Wise promotes direct, non-violent action and reminded everyone the events this weekend are peaceful but she warned that not all responses to peaceful protest are peaceful in nature.“We no longer have time for people to say they can just stand up and hold a sign or attend a march and that will be enough because it’s not,” said Wise. “I can tell you two years ago I was standing at the end of a rifle and I was watching a man walking with a can of bear mace the size of a fire extinguisher. He was walking past children as slow as he could and macing them in the face. He would stop to take a breath then go back and do it again and that was the least of what they were doing and it was to kids.”