TULALIP — This week the Tulalip Tribes lent their voice to the ongoing protests in North Dakota against an oil pipeline.
The Tribes’ board of directors passed a resolution Monday supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its efforts to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“Really, it wasn’t much debate, because we realized it was the right thing to do to support Standing Rock,” said Tulalip Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr.
Protests at Standing Rock have grabbed national headlines and more have spread across the country. On Friday, about 100 Tulalip members took part in a rally and march in downtown Seattle, said Deborah Parker, a former Tulalip board member who went down with her family.
They were joined by members of other regional tribes and many supporters.
The Tulalip board also appropriated $10,000 to help support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, to be used in any way deemed necessary, Sheldon said.
The pipeline’s planned route runs near the tribe’s reservation on lands the tribe considers sacred. The oil pipeline is supposed to run underneath Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by the damming of the Missouri River that also forms the reservation’s east boundary.
Last week, a federal judge declined to overturn a development permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but then the Obama Administration stepped in to halt the work until a thorough review of the permit could take place. Ensuring safety of the water supply is one issue that the tribes assembled in North Dakota have been highlighting during the protest.
The tribal board’s decision isn’t the first Tulalip involvement in the protest camp. In late August, Parker carpooled across the country with her three children and several other tribal members to join the protests for two weeks.
They went of their own accord and not as official representatives of the Tulalip Tribes, but Parker said that there were sometimes a dozen Tulalip members taking part in the Standing Rock demonstrations.
“It’s an awakening of our emotional, our spiritual intelligence, our awareness that we cannot keep polluting the earth and harming the environment. We have to give something back,” Parker said.
She reported her 6-year-old son, Wetuah Dewey, picked up on the spiritual vibe, saying, “We could be home in our warm house in our soft cushy bed and enjoying our peace, but the Creator wants us here to feel the Earth.”
“This guy nailed it,” Parker said.
The spiritual aspect of the protest is not insignificant. The Tulalip board resolution references the importance of clean water.
“Water is sacred,” the resolution reads in part. “Our ancestors have taught us that water is needed for all living things. Our teachings remind us that we must respect the gifts of nature and take care, be in prayer, and give thanks for what we receive.”
Awareness of the environmental challenges tribes face made the Tulalip board’s decision straightforward, Sheldon said, both because the tribe lent its support to the Lummi Nation’s drive to stop the Gateway Pacific coal terminal, and also because the tribe is concerned about potential effects of increased rail transport of oil and coal on adjacent communities.
“There may be some differences on approaches, but protecting our environment is of utmost importance,” he said. “That fight still continues.”
Sheldon added that he was inspired by the young people getting involved, as he remembered the period of rights activism from the 1960s and 1970s.
Parker likened the mood at Standing Rock to one of a sleeping giant being woken up.
“We’re finally standing up for something much bigger than ourselves,” she said.
”It’s woken me up, it’s woken my children up.”