It's National Native American Heritage Month, a symbolic gesture from the U.S. government to acknowledge the indigenous peoples in this country, all the more crucial as the Standing Rock protests reach a crisis point. Throughout November, writer Braudie Blais-Billie will be reporting on the creativity and activism of Native peoples.
Since April, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been adamantly resisting the construction of a crude oil pipeline through their treaty lands, sacred burial grounds, and water source to millions of Americans, the Missouri river. The Dakota Access Pipeline - a venture of the Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners - is a multibillion-dollar project that tramples all over indigenous sovereignty, human rights, and environmental rights. Indigenous activists from across the nation have come together to shed light on the monstrosities committed by the DAPL, including mass arrests, police brutality, militarization with tanks and snipers, attack dogs, tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons in below freezing temperatures. Yes, these violences are life threatening and have injured hundreds. Yes, the protesters - who call themselves water protectors - are peaceful, unarmed, and leading their resistance with prayer.
Though this is the largest gathering of Natives in recent history - over 4,000 indigenous and non-indigenous allies have volunteered as water protectors at the construction site in Cannon Ball, North Dakota - it has taken over seven months to get to a point where major media outlets will even acknowledge the struggle. Like Jason Momoa and Zoe Kravitz, who took to social media in solidarity with the Hawaiian native movement to protect the sacred Mauna Kea volcano, celebrities have been using their platforms to elevate the water protectors' voices. Indigenous activists benefit greatly from the allyship of those outside their communities who practice respect and genuine understanding towards the peoples at hand. Here are some of the celebrities who use their mainstream appeal to support the #NoDAPL movement and the Standing Rock Sioux in their battle for a healthy earth and clean drinking water.
Shailene Woodley and Ezra Miller
Divergent star Shaliene Woodley and actor Ezra Miller have been part of the #NoDAPL movement since its humble beginnings. The two have built relationships with the Oceti Sakowin (the non-English term for Sioux) youth behind the Rezpect Our Water. Woodley and Oceti Sakowin youth leader Bobbi Jean Three Legs have been working side by side to raise awareness throughout the Rezpect Our Water campaign. They were among the first group at the Sacred Stone Camp, a campsite for water protectors and their families, back in July and continue to draw attention to the issue with viral videos and Instagram posts.
On October 10th, Woodley was arrested along with an estimated 20 other water protectors for "trespassing." She has since used the arrest to amplify the Native voice and address the injustices committed by the American government.
Along with Shailene Woodley, Mark Ruffalo has demonstrated an allyship with Native American tribes that's fundamental for change. As an environmental activist, Ruffalo has been very vocal about his opposition to the DAPL, and joined water protectors on the front lines in Cannon Ball in late October. He was invited to the camp to help deliver a solar system to power the camp in wintertime.
On Oct. 27th, he made a huge appearance on CNN to school mainstream America on the #NoDAPL movement and general Native American inequality. Ruffalo touched upon the aggressive police encounters, the stories of the young indigenous water protectors, and the peaceful prayer that sustains the movement.
Jaden and Willow Smith
— Jaden Smith (@officialjaden) November 2, 2016
The precocious siblings Jaden and Willow Smith joined the fight against the DAPL in late October. The Smiths joined a march in Los Angeles' MacArthur Park in solidarity with the water protectors, with Willow carrying a sign that read NO DAPL/ PROTECT OUR WATER. Jaden has since continued the dialogue, Tweeting with the #NoDAPL tag from his infamous account.
Pharrell's relationship with indigenous peoples has changed drastically from 2014 Elle U.K. cover photo donning a sacred headdress, a faux pas he has since apologized for. Pharrell has spoken out through his social media platforms since August, posting about the Standing Rock Sioux, Rezpect Our Water, and the 2,200 mile relay run to Washington, D.C. organized to deliver a petition against the DAPL to the Army Corps and Supreme Court.
Pharrell has taken his activism to his clothing enterprises, collaborating with the M.H.A. Nation of North Dakota and Adidas for his "Hu" line released in September. He used the momentum of this collaboration to bring indigenous activists to pop culture festival ComplexCon, facilitating a discussion about the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Black Widow actress Scarlett Johansson most recently showed her support for the Standing Rock with a photo shared by Mark Ruffalo. The show of solidarity is a step in the right direction for the star who has recently faced criticism for being complicit in the white washing of the American remake of Japanese franchise Ghost in the Shell.
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) May 10, 2016
Following his environmental activism and solidarity with tribal nations in the wake of The Revenant, DiCaprio was one of the first high profile celebrities to speak on the Dakota Access Pipeline and elevate the voices of the Sioux. Over the past six months, he has repeatedly endorsed the Standing Rock petition to President Obama.
Text Braudie Blais-Billie
Photography Cougar Vigil