“I get really worried [about harassment toward protesters]. There was an instance where there were dogs. This lady brought dogs and let them go. They attacked people. There’s been tear gas and pepper spray pointed directly in people’s faces. It’s really hard to see because these people are fighting for something they really are involved in and affects them. They’re just trying to get what’s right to happen,” junior Zoebrina Rutledge said.
Rutledge, also known as Ta WakanHdi To Win by her Native name, shares her concerns about the involvement of her father Robert Shepherd in protests against the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline that cuts through the Standing Rock Reservation of the Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. Shepherd serves as an inspiration to his daughter to be active in the movement against the DAPL, despite their separation across state lines.
“I first heard about [the Dakota Access Pipeline] because of Facebook. [My dad] started sharing about it all the time, trying to get the word out so everyone knows and to show his point of view,” Rutledge said.
Shepherd served as Tribal Chairman of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota, for the maximum two consecutive terms. Located only 228 miles away from the Standing Rock Reservation, Shepherd participated actively in the DAPL conflict during his position as Tribal Chairman.
“It only started to receive attention when the [protest] camps opened up last March or April. The camps are what changed the atmosphere there. A lot of environmentalists showed up and joined the fight with the Tribe. All the tribes stood beside Standing Rock since this all began years ago,” Shepherd said.
Meetings with United States government officials such as local governors, state legislature, Congress and former President Barack Obama and his participation within the United Nations showcase Shepherd’s continuous advocacy for improved conditions for Native populations, especially with the DAPL.
“It is a good example of the modern day oppression we as Native American people have lived with what we fight for: our constitutional given rights to govern ourselves through the treaties our ancestors fought and died for. Our basic human rights [continue to be] violated,” Shepherd said.
According to the Standing Rock Reservation website, the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868 outlined the boundaries of the Standing Rock Reservation and describes the independence that the reservation’s Tribe is entitled to. However, Acts of Congress, such as the Dawes Act which, “opened up the reservations throughout the United States to settlement of non-Indian entities,” limit this autonomy. This, in conjunction with other legislation like President Trump’s executive order which advanced the DAPL project, “have contributed to the contentious issues in this iron triangle between the Federal, State, and Tribal governments,” making the legalities surrounding the pipelines highly disputed. Outside of legal concerns, some participants of the movement, like Shepherd, are also concerned with the preservation of Native American culture.
“I make sure to answer anything [my daughter] wants to know and if I don’t have the answer I provide her the resources to obtain it. For her it’s about identity. She needs to know who she is and where she comes from on both sides of her families,” Shepherd said.
Although Rutledge expresses interest in participating in protests like her father, her mother declines to allow her to attend. For now, Rutledge raises awareness within her personal life by informing others of the DAPL issue and sharing her perspectives.
“My grandparents are very supportive of Trump, so we talk about the pipeline a lot and about how it’s not affecting me, but it’s affecting my family over there. It hurts me to see how they are struggling, going to the protests and fighting,” Shepherd said. “I’ve started to change their point of view on it, but what they first started saying [was that it helped make] jobs and [that it would be beneficial] for oil.”
A common objection to the pipeline expressed by Rutledge and Shepherd, in addition to its effects on the Standing Rock Reservation, is the availability of alternative forms of energy that could be preferred over oil.
“Historically, if one investigates amounts of oil leaks and spills throughout pipelines, it is tremendous. While the United States Energy Information Association reports do point out there will be minimal effects on the land as it goes into extensive mitigation, the fact that there could be a potential for water contamination is alarming, especially if it is a water source downstream for the Sioux Nations,” accelerated Biology and IB Environmental Systems and Societies teacher Jennifer Ekstein said.
It is for this reason and the concern over the protection of other Native populations that both Rutledge and Shepherd continue to participate in the movement, while maintaining hope that it will be successful in not only preventing further advances in the Dakota Access Pipeline’s development, but also that it will serve as a reminder to respect Native American populations and land.
“I hope [the Dakota Access Pipeline] opens the eyes of everyone to see that we should all be here for one another. If you see that something’s wrong, then you should fight to try to fix it, not let the government take things and do what they want to do. America is for the people. We are the people. We make all of these decisions,” Rutledge said. “I just hope everybody sees this as an example for the future.”