Opinion

Liz Perez Halperin: Why this warrior stands up for Standing Rock






Supporters of the #NoDAPL movement rally in Bismarck, North Dakota, on September 9, 2016. Photo courtesy United Tribes News

Liz Perez Halperin, a veteran and member of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, explains why the #NoDAPL battle is so important to Indian Country:
For years, I have maintained the silence and learned to keep my mouth shut about the true story of Native American history in America. I have loyally served our country as a U.S. Navy 9/11 Combat Veteran, but as a Native American from the North Fork Rancheria (Mono Indian) tribe located near Yosemite, I am well aware of our people’s generational struggle. (My Native American name is Pia (pronounced Pi-Ya), which means water). And, despite the harsh treatment of Natives for centuries, the U.S. Native American population claims the greatest number of people per capita who have served in uniform. We, yes, WE, stand when the national anthem is played and WE stand together at “Standing Rock” because this was our land before it was confiscated.

Why does it matter? Why are so many tribes coming together for this cause? One reason is because many tribes share the same issue regarding Native American land rights. These Native American land rights are tied into treaties that were signed over 100 years ago with the US government, treaties made with over 500 tribes. Within these treaties, the government set aside land for Native Americans to live on, known as “reservations.” In reality, the term “reservation” was just a fancy way of saying, “the least productive, least attractive piece of land we’re willing to give you.”

One of those treaties signed by the U.S. was the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which is tied to “Standing Rock” reservation. It was signed with the Lakota, Dakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne tribes. This treaty gave a permanent reservation for the Sioux in all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River, and the Indians in turn released all lands east of the Missouri River, except the Crow Creek, Sisseton, and Yankton Reservations. In this treaty, the government promised that “non-natives” would not enter the Sioux reservation without Sioux permission, and that further negotiations must be done with the approval of Sioux leadership. Yet, ever since the discovery of gold in 1874, that treaty has remained broken for decades.

Many of these sites that non-natives are destroying at Standing Rock are burial grounds and are sacred. These are places of prayer as well. Native American sacred land defines who we are as Native people today. In 1978, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), in which Congress recognized its obligation to “protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express and exercise Native American traditional religions.” This would include preserving Native American sacred ground and allowing the right to practice prayer and Native American spirituality. This reversed the 1883 original government policy prohibiting the practice of Native American spirituality.

The reality is that Tribal Country (reservations) are far away from society, jobs, good healthcare and education. Also, in many cases, like my tribe, we have no access to electricity, sufficient plumbing and almost always no access to cell towers & Wi-Fi. We are completely isolated. So why would anyone want this undesirable land? The answer is, natural resources like gold, natural gas, oil and water. Simply, the U.S. government has broken treaties because of this, allowing oil companies to desecrate Native American burial sites across America.

Read More on the Story:
Liz Perez Halperin: A Message from a Warrior About Protecting Our Sacred Lands: Why Standing Rock Matters (Lima Charlie News 9/8)

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