Published: Nov. 25, 2020

We need to make our decisions based on what’s best for Mother Earth and our coming generations. And that includes protecting our water. Water is under threat all over the world.” —Debra White Plum

“And if we cannot protect the sacred, then what is going to be left for the next seven generations? We must ensure our children and show them that when we say we take care of the Earth and the environment, that we really will do that.” —Pua Case, Mauna Kea protector

"Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children."Sitting Bull

Photo from UnsplashIn this final week of Native American Heritage Month, with Native American Heritage Day on Nov. 27, 2020, it is important to remember that one of the largest protest movements in American history occurred from 2016 to 2017 at the Standing Rock reservation. More than 15,000 people, including members of over 300 recognized tribes, gathered to protect the water supply of over 17 million people from the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Three years on, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in the U.S. with profound implications for Native communities in North Dakota, concerns about U.S. militarization and policing in support of DAPL remain.  

This month on Nov. 4, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments in the latest round of long-standing legal disputes over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Energy Transfer Partners, a company beleaguered by more than 300 pipeline spills since 2012, provides a reminder for the continued need and importance of protecting sacred Indigenous lands from extractivist projects. The actions of water protectors to stop the DAPL has extensive reach, connecting in solidarity with other Indigenous communities that are peacefully protecting their land and sacred sites to ensure a future for us all.

Similarities from Standing Rock in 2016 continue today. These issues parallel environmental and Indigenous concerns throughout the region, nation and world––from Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, where the Bayou Bridge Pipeline (BBP) construction continued in spite of Indigenous water protectors and other residents pending legal challenges and threats to the United Houma Nation’s drinking water––to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the Gwich’in Nation is fighting to protect their lands and caribou from pipelines and oil development. In summer 2019, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal members also gathered at the DAPL epicenter to show solidarity with Native Hawaiians, who are protecting Mauna Kea. A year later, on July 6, 2020, a Federal Court issued a ruling that would order DAPL to shut down pending an environmental review—however, this ruling has become part of a legal back-and-forth in appeals and lower courts to decide the project’s fate. In the meantime, the pipeline operations have not halted.

Still, amid the context of DAPL, various planned pipeline projects have been delayed or even canceled. This situation illustrates that even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the continental U.S., there are possibilities for Indigenous sovereignty. 

Background for CDE’s Toolkits
The toolkit was originally created in 2016 by Executive Committee Member and Associate Professor Phaedra Pezzullo. Since then, CDE Associate Director and Assistant Professor Tiara R. Na'puti has revisited the online toolkit annually to continue to help parents, educators and advocates talk with children about the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy and other issues that impact the ways of life of Indigenous and local people. In 2019, this effort was supported by an IMPART Award aimed at "teaching Indigenous resilience through toolkits," to engage the communication studies curriculum with Native American and Indigenous Studies and deepen investigations about communication, culture, environment, climate change and resilience.

2020 Toolkit Projects
Students enrolled in Na'puti’s Intercultural Communication courses within the Department of Communication at CU Boulder created toolkits on topics of their choosing. These toolkits communicate about expansive issues of Indigenous resilience.

Available now: view Thanksgiving 2.0 toolkits from the CDE and students. The materials include talking points, conversation guides, activities and resources that cover a range of issues such as climate change, sacred land, cultural appropriation and mascots (to name a few). These toolkits also provide resources for Indigenous and environmental groups working in solidarity with Standing Rock and other places like Mauna Kea and the Philippines where people continue to protect land, water and ensure a brighter future for coming generations. 

The Center for Communication and Democratic Engagement hopes that more parents, educators and students will expand these resources, which are meant as a springboard for education and activities with youth and other audiences to foster dialogue about issues at Standing Rock and places with ongoing environmental concerns. These materials also encourage dialogue about the meaning of Thanksgiving and the theme of Indigenous resilience.

“…I would really like us all to do our part, beyond Native American Heritage Month.” —Winona LaDuke

“We are all very much committed to standing in solidarity to protect what we have.” —Cherri Foytlin 

“We have a very close relationship to our relatives, because we are both standing for what is sacred: water. We are standing for the water from our mountain, and they, of course, are standing for their water.” —Pua Case, on similarities from Mauna Kea and Standing Rock

“The coastal plain is sacred to the Gwich’in people and critical to our food security and way of life. It is no place for destructive seismic testing or oil rigs and pipelines.” —Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.