There has been a battle waging in the sparsely populated state of North Dakota since July of 2016, when the North Dakota Access Pipeline was officially approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was a final and crushing culmination following months of uncertainty stemming back to December 2014, when Energy Transfer Partners' (ETP) subsidiary Dakota Access formerly submitted an application for the build.
The pipeline itself would be a behemoth, sprawling 1,172 miles from North Dakota all the way to Southern Illinois. Additionally, it would pump an estimated 470,000 to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day and potentially generate between 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in surrounding communities.
To some, it seemed like a lucrative venture: thousands of gallons of oil would reach their destination faster, thousands more people would have jobs. Less considered was that the pipeline would bulldoze through sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and potentially endanger Lake Oahe, a vital clean-water source.
As the conflict gained media traction and found support with celebrities like Jaden Smith, Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, Vic Mensa and Zendaya, the resulting microscope only magnified friction between protesters, security and law enforcement. Reports of illegal arrests, unlawful camera and equipment seizure, and civil rights violations, began trickling onto social media on a near daily basis.
In December 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers officially halted plans for the pipeline, opting to conduct an environmental impact study that would potentially offer an alternative route. For many, the victory felt uncertain - halting the progress didn't mean the pipeline would never move forward. There was also no guarantee an alternative route would not be just as damaging in other locations.
Nearly a month into 2017, and despite the Standing Rock Sioux Council passing a resolution officially requesting that all protesters leave the main campsites by January 30, many have stayed on to keep vigil. The January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump was particularly unsettling for Standing Rock organizers and eco-watch groups. Much of Trump's policy concerning environmental accountability, climate change and clean energy is starkly at odds with that of the previous Obama administration.
A cornerstone of Trump's campaign (which is still on his website) promises to, "Rescind all job-destroying Obama executive actions and reduce and eliminate all barriers to responsible energy production, creating at least a half million jobs a year, $30 billion in higher wages, and cheaper energy."
Trump's reluctance to plainly define "responsible energy production" coupled with his previous support of the Dakota Access Pipeline - which at one point he personally invested in, though reports indicate he sold his shares to avoid a conflict of interest - have drawn questions about the longevity of the protesters' victory.
Especially since it would seem that Trump's campaign themes align far more closely with the interests of the pipeline developers than those who reject the build. On January 24, just four days into office, Trump signed an executive order to advance the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline - which was previously rejected by the Obama administration after a seven-year review process, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was resounding proof to those who have decried Trump's environmental policy that even though the battle at Standing Rock was (technically) won, the war was far from over.
Before #NoDAPL reached the mainstream area denizens were already organizing to protect their interests. Among the leaders of the efforts were a handful of indigenous hip-hop artists who dedicated both their time and music as a vehicle for change. We reached out to three artists who were on the ground and asked them to share their experiences over the past year and what they think the future holds.
On the Last Year:
"Last year our indigenous collective had some really powerful concerts at camp. I even got to spend some time with Vic Mensa and build. I filmed the first time he ever got on a horse - as an indigenous artist I thought that was dope. We are connected by hip-hop; it is the deepest form of original spirit; it is a way to use our voices, words, and beats to carry us, so that we can carry the spirit of our message to the people."
"When the 'Water is Life' movement started I want to support my Auntie Ladonna. Though it was really the youth who inspired us when they ran from Cannonball, North Dakota, to Washington D.C. to protest the pipeline. When we got to Standing Rock we realized it was the water that was calling us; it was spiritual and a calling for those that came in compassion."
On the Future:
"In 2017, it's important to keep telling this story, especially from the perspective of those who camped and suffered the ongoing abuse and injustice that took place there. The perspective from the camp is that we're changing the energy across the country. We're spreading the importance of creating spirit camps across Native country. This fight has become greater than Standing Rock. It's about sacred water and our people coming back spiritually to a place of family. I was part of the Pawnee Camp, a camp I created to provide a place for my tribe. It became a special place for all who came through."
"When I got five charges - one being a felony from Morton County - I realized we were dealing with yet another training ground for what this country wants to implement on all of us. Other citizens are controlling people through fear tactics, injustice, racism and legislature - but this is all prophetic to our people. The most necessary thing is unity."
On the Role of Music:
"My music has very much been music for the movement. I'm blessed to have been one of the original Native emcees that worked hard to bring forth indigenous hip-hop. I've been rockin' since '94 and have very much been part of Standing Rock since 2003 when we battled the teen suicide epidemic."
Learn more about Quese here.
On the Last Year:
"My experience at Standing Rock was empowering. I come from the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, or as we call ourselves in our language, 'Numunu,' the people. My tribe has a long history of fighting colonization, and many of us are born into traditional warrior societies. As a single father I felt a responsibility to my son and daughter and all the future generations to go and join the indigenous resistance. I joined the fight in hopes that my kids would not have to face these same battles in their lifetime."
"My first task upon arriving to camp was delivering food, supplies and survival gear to my comrades at Pueblo Camp. After that I immediately made my way to the Cannonball River to offer prayers and medicine to the water. The following morning - after a long night of noise from low-flying small engine planes, helicopters and drones - I witnessed the first snow of the winter season."
"That day was filled with tension as direct action began at the Backwater Bridge barricade on Highway 1806. Myself and my fellow water protectors geared up with armored vests, tactical gear, gas masks, shields and medical kits - this was in response to the militarized police force of Morton County, DAPL security and the National Guard. We stood strong and provided safety to the hundreds of people from Oceti Sakowin camp who occupied the sacred grounds of Turtle Island on that so-called 'Thanksgiving' holiday."
"As a unit member of Bravo Company I also took part in recon outings to keep intel on the whereabouts of DAPL's security force in relation to camp perimeters. Many of us also conducted camp safety checks at night to ensure everyone had assistance during sub-zero blizzard conditions. I was also among the veterans and akicita who marched down Highway 1806 to the bridge barricade on December 5. We wanted to let DAPL know that we stood with the resistance and would not leave despite the eviction notice released by the Army Corps of Engineers."
"In my time at camp I experienced a spiritual energy unlike anything I've ever known. It was a powerful awakening of the warrior spirit within our generation of indigenous people. All our lives we've been born into resistance against historical attempts at genocide by the U.S. government. By answering this call to fight, indigenous people from across the world came together as one and fulfilled the Seventh Generation prophecy: Men, women, youth and elders from all walks of life joined in the true essence of a community and showed the world the strength that lies in solidarity."
On the Future:
"Heading into 2017, we must continue to awaken and empower ourselves as indigenous people. We must continue to fight against colonization, genocide and ecocide. We must rise up to protect Mother Earth and the water we all need to survive. People who wish to become involved in this movement should realize that the right to clean water is not just a Native issue but a human issue. We must all educate ourselves on the importance of the many challenges indigenous people face, and our struggle for equality which has spanned for over 500 years."
"It's time to pay attention to our right to tribal sovereignty, our alarming rates of incarceration and suicide, the appropriation of our culture, and to bring awareness to the missing and murdered indigenous women of North America."
On the Role of Music:
"I've used my music as a weapon of self-expression to talk about many of these issues. I use hip-hop to give myself a voice and bring messages from a forgotten people. Hip-hop was born out of struggle and later became mass marketed, commercialized and exploited. For Native artists like me, we still haven't left that struggle. We face it every day and we keep that raw essence in every single bar we spit."
Learn more about King Keeno here.
On the Last Year:
"I've witnessed so many people I call family from all over Turtle Island come together. Usually when I see the family we do a benefit show, shut down intersections and take highways, or march in the streets and hold space together. After those kinds of events we get to hang out and talk about what's next for a few brief hours. We don't get to meet up very often and usually one or two groups are missing, so we make the most of these moments."
"I think the compassion we share for our people, for the land, for the water and for Mother Earth, led many of us to cross paths. For a lot of us this is a lifestyle and not just a moment in time. I've seen a lot of people come and go at Standing Rock, and I feel their intentions have been transformed. I'd like to believe being there has taught us all to put our egos aside and work toward a common cause."
"We need to focus on our similarities across nations, the things that make us human. In these times there is so much that separates us and makes us want to fight. However, there's also much, much more that we can learn and teach each other. Our differences should bring us together; we shouldn't try to be one herd with one face and one vision. Rather we should learn to stand in true solidarity as many people from many places facing the same struggles. This past year has taught me about moving forward together, leaning on each other and showing up for each other when called on."
On the Future:
"I think 2017 will be tough for all of us. Trump taking office is going to cause a ripple effect - we're really going to have to protect our communities. Those still at the camp now are those who don't live for the glory. They are those who don't live to be in the spotlight, but when work needs to get done they will see it through. It's not a time for glory it's a time for hard work, and that's exactly what's being done. What needs to happen at Standing Rock is already going on - people are organizing and it's beautiful."
"For those outside of the direct struggle who have been on the fence for all this time: You will have to choose sides. If people remain silent in the face of oppression they are taking the side of the oppressor. We can no longer afford to say, "this doesn't affect me" or "this isn't my fight."
"We'll need more people there who have the skills to hit the ground running. They've got to be open to learning the philosophy of Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA). All of those times construction was stopped or halted was because of NVDA. The divestment going on now is NVDA. The camp itself was based around NVDA. You can't say honor the treaties and not exercise the very premise of the treaties. At the end of the day, the next year will be one big humanitarian effort. It will be about the fight to live and have access to clean water for generations to come. This is a battle between natural law and big money. Natural law will prevail."
On the Role of Music:
"My music has been a reflection of the environment. To me, music is a form of activism, though to me, the term "activist" is an outside-looking-in way of thinking. My work isn't activism, it's healing. It's building relationships between nations, villages and people; it's connecting struggles in order to find ways we can help each other thrive rather than struggle. This is the way our ancestors wanted us to be and it's the way we want our children to be when we become the ancestors."
Learn more about MC Rhetorik here.