Is it a good day to be Indigenous?

The Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln celebrated 47 years running by bringing in environmental-justice activist Leo Yankton, an Ogallala Lakota Native American from the Pine Ridge Reservation and Lincoln, NE.  While he admitted to not being an academic or a polished public speaker, I think he successfully used a new and creative touch when presenting his speech “Is it a good day to be Indigenous?”.

Being half Ogallala Lakota and half white, and now a middle-aged man with a daughter, Leo has been able to see the world from both sides and he has developed an understanding as to how to approach these issues and how to explain it to others who aren’t living through the experiences of Native Americans. He told the crowd that he was an alcoholic, but for the past decade, he has been sober because the people surrounding him have brought him to an alertness of Native oppression and he found a purpose for his life through it.

“American is a corporation,” Leo proudly stated. He told the audience that the only way to get government and corporate attention is to push for divestments in the companies that are supporting the pipeline. Many banks have been encouraged to drop their funding for big oil companies and some even have.

One of Leo’s local projects is the removal of all Native-mimicking Halloween costumes in stores. Images flashed up on the projector of half-naked models wearing headdresses and people in gag-Halloween costumes. This idea that Native women can be sexually exploited feeds into the rape culture that has been plaguing Native women since colonization. 1 in 3 Native women is raped, in a lot of cases by non-Native men. I just finished reading Louise Erdrich’s The Round House in which the main character’s mother is raped by a white man. Her novel addresses the complications of Indian law conflicting with federal and state laws and ties it into the rape because the attacker is not persecuted for his actions even though it is well-known that he committed the act.

Picture of Leo (from his Facebook) at the camp in Standing Rock:

leo yanktonLeo Yankton Facebook

Leo introduced us to this video by the group Taboo, which shows battle-front clips from Standing Rock and even includes some vocals from the A Fault In Our Stars actress Shailene Woodly, who used her fame to draw attention to Standing Rock and raise awareness. This video stood out to me because Native musicians and artists were used to put it together and it did not differ from any of the mainstream rap videos that can be seen today. It showed just how well the younger Native American generations are using their talents and abilities to fight against the big oil corporations.

Another great song that Leo shared with us was Skip Marley’s Lions. Below is the lyric video which also contains some powerful visuals as a background.

This song works for not only Native American movements but also for Black Lives Matter, women’s marches, and so much more. It’s encouraging to have music that ties into activist activities because it is motivating and empowering and can reach the public in an open manner. It’s also a great outlet for anger and frustration for people which is important because it is not an aggressive act. Physical aggression rarely solves any problems which was demonstrated at the Standing Rock Camp. The water protectors remained peaceful while they were there despite being spray by fire hoses, hit with rubber grenades, and arrested multiple times from police.

Also in this picture is the sign that was placed in front of the podium during the talk which is not only aesthetically pleasing but also a good pun.  I think most people know that oil and water cannot be mixed together, but there has become an urgency against the pipelines because it is difficult to remove the oil from natural water sources when pipelines have even the smallest of spills. Entire ecosystems can be obliterated because of it. At the bottom of the podium is a hand-made shield for water protectors on the front-line to keep themselves safe from the attacks of the police that were brought in at Standing Rock. It’s pretty

At the bottom of the podium is a hand-made shield for water protectors on the front-line to keep themselves safe from the attacks of the police that were brought in at Standing Rock. It’s pretty shameful that we are living in a world in which people are having to build body armor to protect themselves against the police in the “great” country.

While scientists are able to find solutions for oil spills like the sponge invented by Argonne National Laboratory that was introduced just last month, which could be used to clean up oil spills. The Huffington Post-Canada’s article “Researchers Invent a Sponge That Could Transform Oil Spill Cleanup”, it says, “Currently, most products for cleaning up oil are single use, and the oil is wasted. One of the most common products is a sorbent boom — a long tube that’s thrown on the surface of the water to soak up part of the spill, before being removed to be safely disposed of. It, and other solutions can be pricey and slow.” This new sponge is supposedly reusable and doesn’t waste the oil that it absorbs which would be a win-win in this case.


Huffington Post-Canada

Despite new technology providing solutions to oil spills, pipelines destroy the land they go through and still continue to spill into water sources. It is more beneficial to stop building pipelines and for once think about the future well-being of our planet.

Dr. Dance, from the Sociology department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has become a dear friend of Leo’s and took him to Sweeden to bring word of what the water protectors at Standing Rock were doing. One fact he brought up that really grabbed my attention was that he met the indigenous people in Sweeden who were facing similar problems as Native Americans in America have been and still are. He told us how they took him to visit one of the forests in which thousands of reindeer once roamed and was their main source of food, just like the buffalo were for the Plains Indians. Huge mining corporations have now come in and destroyed that forest and the reindeer population. It’s disheartening to know that indigenous oppression and the destruction of the land is not just happening in North America, the whole world is experiencing it.

On a humorous side note, Tom Gannon, one of my favorite professors and dual professor in the English and Ethnic Studies Department at UNL, thanked Leo for being there by presenting him with a beautiful blanket. I can’t help but laugh at how much this picture below looks like Professor Gannon is trying to give Mr. Yankton a bug ole hug.


P.S. Leo Yankton and I are now Facebook friends and I couldn’t be more excited to be connecting with fellow activists!

Also, I think it’s a great day to be indigenous as the fight continues against the destruction of Mother Earth!


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