Dozens of community members gathered Wednesday evening at the Intertribal Friendship House in East Oakland for the opening of an art exhibit highlighting the ongoing struggle by Native American activists to halt the construction of an oil pipeline that could potentially threaten to contaminate the Missouri River.
Thousands of activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have gathered at the Standing Rock Spirit Camp in North Dakota to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which would run just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
According to environmental activists, the pipeline could contaminate the drinking water for thousands of people living downstream of the Missouri River and would destroy sacred Sioux burial sites.
At Wednesday’s opening of the Oakland art exhibit, titled “Protect the Sacred,” indigenous artists came together to speak on Native American resiliency and the current struggles to protect water and land.
“For Native folks, water is its own deity, and there’s a way to respect it,” said Tomahawk GreyEyes, an artist who works at the Intertribal Friendship House and helped curate the exhibit.
“This exhibit is important because communities are beginning to understand the concept of protecting the sacred and this opens up conversations and builds solidarity,” he said.
Among the contributing artists present on Wednesday was Joey Montoya, founder of Urban Native Era, a media site and apparel store that seeks to spread awareness of native issues.
Montoya had recently returned from spending several weeks volunteering at Standing Rock and described what he experienced at the camp.
“Being there was really powerful because we saw all these nations standing together for water and for Mother Earth,”Montoyan told the Post.
“This is the first time we are all united, and standing together and seeing that unity was incredible,” he said.
On Monday, only hours after lawyers for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe went to court with evidence that the pipeline would indeed go through a sacred burial site, the company building the pipeline plowed through the site with bulldozers.
Hundreds of Native Americans rushed to the construction site to protect the burial site and were attacked by the company’s security forces, using guard dogs and pepper spray.
Oakland, which is home to the Ohlone people, has seen its own struggle to protect indigenous sacred sites.
Since 2001, native people and allies have protested the existence of the Bay Street Shopping Mall in Emeryville, which sits on an Ohlone Shellmound. The mall was approved by the Emeryville City Council to be built on the sacred site despite community opposition to the project.
A federal judge is expected to rule on Friday on the Standing Rock tribe’s request to stop construction on the pipeline. North Dakota’s governor has announced he will send the National Guard to the area ahead of the ruling.