2 Dec 2016

Standing Rock protests mirror Pacific indigenous rights

7:03 pm on 2 December 2016

Protests are ongoing against a controversial oil pipeline project in North Dakota and a Native American artist says the Pacific should take note to prevent similar projects from occurring elsewhere.

Snow covers Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on November 30, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country have been gathering at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Sioux-Oglala Latoka Tongan artist Juliana Brown Eyes-Clifford Kaho says protesters young and old have been sprayed with water cannons in temperatures which are below freezing. Photo: AFP/ GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Scott Olson

The $US3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) will run 1870km through Iowa, Illinois, and North and South Dakota to transport domestically produced light sweet crude oil to major refining markets.

But protesters halted its construction in North Dakota with protest camps established on Sioux land at Standing Rock in April amid fears of pollution and a lack of consultation.

Thousands of people are estimated to be taking part in bitter winter conditions but Juliana Brown Eyes-Clifford Kaho, who is Sioux and Tongan, was part of an initial group of protesters at the site numbering 80.

"My husband's aunty Phyllis Young, her land is just right off the reservation and she had called up my husband and was like 'nephew I need you to come up here and stand with us because the Dakota Access Pipeline is going to digging and start laying their pipeline and it's like 50 feet on my land and I need you to help us bring attention to it'."

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Juliana Brown Eyes-Clifford Kaho has journeyed to New Zealand to connect with her Tongan family and raise awareness of protests against construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota. Photo: RNZI / Daniela Maoate-Cox

She and her husband had just finished touring with their band Scatter Their Own but immediately drove five hours to support their family.

"They're fighting the fight for the water," she said.

"It's the Missouri river that runs just adjacent to their reservation and also my tribe is tapped into the Missouri river as well so that's where we get all our drinking water from."

"So it's a really huge issue right now with the Dakota Access pipeline, DAPL, you know the hashtag-NODAPL, it's been getting really a lot of coverage and that's great, because it's a big movement that's really dear to indigenous people."

Mrs Brown Eyes-Clifford Kaho said her band had never intended to be politically motivated but as indigenous people they could not ignore the fight for indigenous rights and she sees the same concerns from her Pacific community whom she has travelled to New Zealand to meet.

"We can see ourselves in you and you guys see us. Water is sacred to us and it's a reflection and you reflect us and so on and so forth and it's beautiful. We can feel it you know. We might not speak the same languages but just sitting here I feel you and your spirit. It's just powerful."

Footage of support from Pacific people and Maori who performed a haka for Standing Rock and Pacific people has "rekindled the fire" she said but she is urging more in the Pacific to pay attention to the cause.

"If America is willing to let a pipeline go through indigenous land, to the first people of that land, if that's able to go through and you know hurt our people, think of where else that could happen? That could happen in your own community," she said.

"Right now we are really laying the blueprint of what it's going to look like for the future. Whatever happens with this movement, we really need to make sure that we have our futures in mind, across the globe you know."

Native Americans march to a burial ground sacred site that was disturbed by bulldozers building the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Native Americans march to a burial ground sacred site that was disturbed by bulldozers building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo: AFP

Daniela Maoate-Cox contributed reporting.

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