Water protectors or protesters? Media portrayal may not be whole picture

American Indian student association No DAPL



The protest taking place on the Standing Rock reservation near Bismarck, North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has caught the interest of media and individuals all over the world.

There seems to be a lot of discrepancy in the media, however, about the nature and goals of the people at the site. According to the self- proclaimed ‘Water Protectors,’ the ultimate goal is to peacefully protect their water supply, the Missouri River, from the 1,168-mile pipeline.

Breanna Bradley, a member of the American Indian student association (AISA), is originally from the Bismarck area and has a friend who frequents the pipeline site.

Bradley said there are a lot of misperceptions surrounding the demonstrators and their way of life.

“(They say things like) ‘They have their shotguns down there,’ (even though) there are no weapons allowed down by the camp,” Bradley said.

Winona Goodthunder, who is the president of AISA and went out to the site with her family, agrees with Bradley that the organizers of the camp want to promote peace.

“That’s one of the first things that they ask when you go into the camp,” Goodthunder said. “They were like, ‘No weapons, no drugs, no alcohol — that’s not okay. If you have any of those things you will be asked to leave.’”

As far as organization goes, Goodthunder was impressed.

“We brought stuff to donate. They had a specific donation tent — a big tent where you bring all the stuff. There were specific volunteers at the tent organizing supplies to go to other tents,” Goodthunder said.

Goodthunder explained that the main issue of the demonstrators was all about the water, hence their chosen title of ‘Water Protectors.’

“There’s more of a bigger picture here. I kind of feel like I, as a Native American person, (was) taught to look at the bigger picture rather than a linear view,” Goodthunder said. “Water is life, and protecting the water isn’t just a race issue, it’s not about Native American people, there’s a bigger picture. We have to respect the Earth and the water because it could go away.”

Goodthunder said one of the biggest misperceptions of the Standing Rock organization is that it is something that only has to do with Native American rights.

“I think that the media is making this a race issue a lot and that’s heartbreaking.”

—Winona Goodthunder, president of the American Indian student association

“I think that the media is making this a race issue a lot and that’s heartbreaking,” Goodthunder said. “Not to mention when they make it a race issue, they’re opening up this door to allow for people to make racial comments towards native Water Protectors, and more importantly the Native American people. That’s terrifying that everyone just (thinks that) it’s okay doing that, it’s okay bypassing what the issue is.”

When asked about the kind of support they had, Bradley was able to cite many different groups and individuals.

“Leonardo DiCaprio is backing us, Bernie Sanders just bought an ‘I Stand With Standing Rock’ shirt, Shailene Woodley has been there pretty much from the beginning – people from all over, and it doesn’t even matter what race, ethnicity or religion,” Bradley said. “Whatever country you live in, it’s literally all these people coming from all over the world or different cities proclaiming they stand with Standing Rock in support of protecting the water.”

Goodthunder and Bradley said that much of the backlash against Standing Rock is misguided and hurtful.

“A majority of the argument that I’ve seen is ‘Oh, the tribe didn’t get enough money to say it was okay.’ No — it’s never okay,” Bradley said. “Even the people (who) are running the pipeline spoke out against this. People still don’t believe they weren’t offering the tribe money.”

To promote awareness of the Standing Rock situation, several student organizations, including AISA, the sustainable students association (SSA) and the Dragons society of social work, have come together to hold “No DAPL” week, with three events hosted throughout the week.

On Wednesday, an open discussion took place about the DAPL so anyone who attended could educate him or herself on the matter. Attendees were able to participate in the conversation and ask questions. The discussion was moderated by chief diversity officer Dr. Donna Brown and professor Karen Brandon. Brown called the discussion a “safe space” to talk about the issue at hand.

To start off the talk, the background of the situation at Standing Rock was presented, explaining that although the Standing Rock tribe had met with the corporation behind DAPL, they did not to ask for the tribe’s approval on the matter, but told them the plans for the pipeline.

Tori Gilbert, a junior at MSUM and member of SSA, expressed her satisfaction with the event. As part of SSA, Gilbert helped to advertise and plan parts of the No DAPL week events.

“It’s important because it’s literally making history.”

—Breanna Bradley, a member of the American Indian student association

“I am happy about the amount of people that were able to make it,” Gilbert said. “Also the discussion was very informative. I learned more about everything that is going on that I thought I already knew.”

The open discussion talked about many issues, including the media’s misperceptions, the poor portrayal of what is going on at the camp and peoples’ first-hand experiences at the camp. The future of MSUM’s involvement at Standing Rock was also discussed. Talk of a trip to the site through the university is currently underway.

The No DAPL week project also encouraged students to have their voices heard in Thursday’s event, the letter-writing party to the supporters and funders of DAPL.

At the letter-writing party, materials were provided for students explaining the situation at DAPL. Lists of possible people to contact about the situation, ranging from media outlets to government officials to banks who are backing the construction, were provided as well.

The goal of the letter- writing party was to let students know their voices matter.

Regardless of what side people take, it’s possible that Standing Rock will be one for the history books.

“It’s important because it’s literally making history,” Bradley said. “All seven Council Fires are together. United. Our ‘enemies’ from back in the day, people who we used to consider enemies are now our allies in this, standing right next to us. This is huge, and people don’t realize it as much because (of how the) media is portraying it.”

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