by Leslie Layton
When Chico’s Jake Davis announced a City Plaza rally to show support for the indigenous groups trying to stop construction of a North Dakota pipeline, he feared only half a dozen people would show up.
Davis, co-founder of Chico350 – the international organization 350.org fights for clean energy and other measures to slow climate change – knows how hard it is to organize climate-justice protests outside of large cities. But what happened Sept. 13 at City Plaza was surprising and moving.
Almost 200 people showed up for the late afternoon rally, including members of tribes who live in Chico, Oroville, Corning, near the California coast and the state border with Nevada. Internationally, it was a day of protest in support of the #NoDAPL movement trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that cuts across indigenous burial grounds, tribal sacred sites and underneath the Missouri River. “This ended up becoming a chance for indigenous people to have a voice,” Davis said Tuesday. “We thought it was just about stopping a pipeline, but it’s a lot bigger than that now. It’s bigger than Native or non-Native.”
A sage prayer bouquet filled the plaza with its smoky scent as tribal members sang and led prayers. Many of those who spoke Tuesday had family members participating in the movement near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation or had been there themselves. Tribal members who call themselves “water protectors” are trying to block progress on the pipeline, pointing out that a leak could contaminate water supplies for millions of people.
Armida Rosalez said eight other people from the Enterprise Rancheria in Oroville had joined her at the rally. “Water is life to everybody,” she said. “I truly believe in this cause. We are here as guardians for our Creator.”
(Enterprise Rancheria is affiliated with Butte County’s Estom Yumeka Maidu tribe.)
Chicoan Steve Santos, a member of the Mechoopda, said he had come “in support of the protection of Native American sacred sites.” The #NoDAPL movement, he said, is a reflection of the “empowerment of Native Americans.”
But the Standing Rock protests have also become a rallying point for climate-justice activists who want to move the country away from fossil-fuel dependence, and thousands protested Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called on the Obama Administration to take further action that would effectively halt pipeline construction while a more thorough review is undertaken. More than 20 water protectors were arrested at the North Dakota site during Tuesday protests.
Chico resident Michelle Windes was one of many Native speakers at the Chico rally. “My father taught me the belief to save the Earth for the sixth generation,” she said. “How proud I am of the Sioux and all the Native Americans who are looking Goliath in the eye.”