14 Feb 2017

Film maker captures Standing Rock and other struggles

From Nine To Noon, 10:06 am on 14 February 2017
Sarain Fox

Sarain Fox Photo: Supplied

The campaign to the halt the construction of a controversial crude oil pipeline in North Dakota last year saw protestors camped out on snow-covered Sioux land at Standing Rock, and drew thousands of supporters. 

Last month US president Donald Trump decided to advance the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, who said at the time: "I don't even think it was controversial. "I haven't had one call."

This is despite the protracted protests and legal challenges spearheaded by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who fear the pipeline will pollute their river, and who hold the area to be a sacred place.

Sarain Fox, who is of Anishinaabe lineage, has visited several indigenous communities worldwide, including Standing Rock, for the Viceland series Rise.

She told Nine to Noon that when she first got to Standing Rock in May 2016 there were fewer than 20 people there. She had no idea it would go on to become the largest gathering of indigenous tribes in the US in the last 100 years.

Fox says there are treaties and agreements between the US government and indigenous people, but when the tribe actively used them to pursue legal action they were ignored.

And on Monday an injunction by the tribe to halt an executive order from Mr Trump to allow the project to proceed was denied.

“So once again, even though there is this clear treaty that says that these waters will be controlled by the Sioux people, for some reason the administration and the American government does not [uphold] those … in the courts,” Fox says.

The Trump administration is now fast-tracking the pipeline, she says.

“I think what we are witnessing right now is that there is this idea that oil and gas and infrastructure and resources are more important than the people.

“And so the Sioux tribe … is trying to go way back to the very first treaties that say that … this has always been a part of the Sioux tribe, and there is an actual fact to be looked at.

“The problem is that the Sioux tribe is not having an opportunity to dispute any of these things.”

Only consistency is exploitation

Fox says that travelling around the world to film the series she found one thing to be consistent.

“Each country or province or state writes in the formula to deal with indigenous people to best serve their need to exploit them.

“And to see that as an indigenous person was very hard to witness.”

US President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump signs the executive order allowing the pipeline to proceed. Photo: AFP

When it comes to resource extraction the perspective of indigenous people is always overlooked, she says.

“We travelled all over North America as well as Brazil and in each community we visited there wasn’t one single one where water didn’t come up as something that people were actively fighting for.

“And for me, outside of identifying as an indigenous person, just for me as a human being, the idea that water could be taken from people, could be removed as a way of controlling them was incredibly alarming, incredibly confronting.”

Indigenous people are inherently connected to their land – it holds the bones of their ancestors – and it also holds their stories, Fox says.

“No matter who you are, as a human being your right to life, your right to water and what you believe in should be a human right.

“I think it is very dangerous to see one area of a society as controllable based on how you deal with the resources that they sit on.

“And I think for indigenous people, particularly in North America, we are seeing this consistent, active, continued … attempted genocide [in] the way that big business is dealing with indigenous people within their community.

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.

Snow covers Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on 30 November 2016. Photo: AFP/ GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Scott Olson

‘It is definitely personal for me’

Fox says she grew up in a very politically active community and that she is first and foremost an artist and a dancer.

She says she comes to journalism as an activist and wants to raise the voices of indigenous people, particularly its young people.

“It is definitely personal for me. This ties into … my ability to carry on as an indigenous person and our ability to carry on in this world.”

Three episodes of Rise are also being shown at the Māoriland Film Festival which runs from 15 - 19 March. Rise screens on VICELAND from Monday 6 March at 8.30pm.