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Friday, Jun 2, 2023
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Research That Reaches Out: Practicum experiences in Standing Rock

Thousands of Native Americans have been rallying in North Dakota since April in protest of an oil pipeline that violates native land and could endanger the water supply.

As a part of the practicum program at Mercer’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, I had the opportunity to work this semester with the CCJ’s Laura Fong and Research that Reaches Out Director Bridget Trogden to coordinate a trip to South Dakota to meet with Lakota elders, and make the journey to the Standing Rock Resistance Camp in North Dakota.

Along the way, we documented stories and gained insight into who the “Water Protectors” are and why the resistance camps have been put in place.

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The resistance camps in North Dakota have been organized following the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), an oil pipeline that passes through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The pipeline travels through Sioux Nation land, and opponents of the pipeline claim it violates an almost 200-year-old treaty between American government and the First Nations tribes. (Editor's note: The Billings Gazette reports that 87 percent of the pipeline in North Dakota was completed at the end of September.)[sidebar title="Update on the Dakota Access Pipeline" align="right" background="on" border="none" shadow="off"]

As of December 4, the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline about a half-mile south of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has been stopped after the Army Corp of Engineers decided to deny the permit for construction in that area. To read more about it, check out NPR's update.


Within the resistance camps, people from all over came together to support each other and spread wisdom about life as a Native American. I listened to countless stories and spoke with a multitude of people, but the message that stuck with me the most was “WoLakota.”

WoLakota is a phrase that means “everything that is.” It is a phrase that governs the lands of the Lakota Nation and reminds its people of two main principles: to be at balance with what is happening and to not let unfavorable situations negatively impact everyday life and the understanding that we are all interconnected, regardless of where we come from.

I witnessed over 200 First Nations tribes unite at Standing Rock to stop the injustice of the DAPL, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the phrase.

Thousands of people gather together in song, dance and prayer to stop the atmosphere from falling to sorrow and pity. Instead, united, these individuals reminded everyone that they were not going to lie down and let injustice happen on their land — they were going to fight and take a stand.

The movement ignited at Standing Rock allows people all over the globe to witness the embodiment of WoLakota.

People from all walks of life have united, helping to take care of each other by bringing food, donating clothes and passing out blankets so that everyone will be warm during the sub freezing days and frozen nights.

They have created a familial bond with everyone there fighting for what they believe in, and a community of interconnected beings has been formed.

In all, being able to show my support for Standing Rock and all the individuals who are supporting the DAPL resistance camps has shown me the possibilities of our society and what we can achieve when we each apply our own understanding of WoLakota.


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