Vi Waln: Lakota children make a sacrifice with hunger strike

Our children look forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny. Many people have observed the Lenten season leading up to Easter Sunday by abstaining from certain foods, behaviors or habits. Lent is often marked by a myriad of personal sacrifice and prayer services to remember the icon we all know as Wanikiya or Jesus Christ.

There are many who have undergone a complete or partial fast on certain days during Lent. Others have observed Lent by eating only fish on Fridays. When I was a child I remember my late Mother only cooked fish on Fridays during Lent. Back then I didn’t really understand the meaning of fasting or abstinence, I just knew I didn’t like salmon patties on Friday.

If there were no fish to be caught, what would we eat on those days during Lent when we are abstaining from red meat? I remember listening to Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network give passionate testimony earlier this year about what is happening on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Lake Sakakawea has been forever altered by all the strip mining at Fort Berthold. Tribal members who fish are told to throw back the big fish because they are too contaminated with chemicals to eat.

There are still numerous tribal communities who depend on fish and other sea animals for basic survival. Our relatives who live along the shores of the sea, ocean and lakes have always fed their families and made a living from the gifts produced by the water. So what is going to happen if all Earth’s water is contaminated?

I have written several pieces on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the danger it poses to Earth. Still, there are mindless politicians who are determined to see new oil pipelines built. Perhaps political campaign contributions bind them to the wealthy oil industries. Or they may even have covert financial interests invested in those same oil companies. In my opinion they are all very shortsighted. They obviously do not possess the critical thinking skills needed to plan for the survival of seven generations and beyond.

There have been countless oil spills on both land and in the waters. So there is already massive contamination from spills and leaks. Many humans, animals and birds have suffered from these man-made disasters. If the current rush to mine all the oil and minerals from the Earth continues, our children will have a very difficult time surviving. Will our great-great grandchildren die of thirst?

During this Easter Holy Week there were children who chose to fast for 48 hours to bring awareness to the destruction the wealthy oil industries are bringing to Earth. A hunger strike began on April 1 at and ended April 3. A very powerful message is conveyed when our children refuse to eat for two days because they are concerned about the destruction being brought to our food and water through oil mining.

The students and staff of Bella Bella Community School in British Columbia, Canada chose to make a stand against the Enbridge Pipeline by fasting for 48 hours. The students of Bella Bella are of Heiltsuk descent and live on Campbell Island along the Great Bear Rainforest. The hunger strike was scheduled to coincide with hearings by Enbridge regarding the pipeline they want to build through the Bella Bella Community.

On Palm Sunday, members of the joint review panel arrived by airplane in the Bella Bella Community. They were scheduled hold several days of hearings to gather testimony on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Approximately 4,300 people were slated to offer statements on the project.

The review team was greeted by a group of protesters, including First Nations people in traditional regalia, conducting a peaceful demonstration against the Enbridge pipeline at the airport tarmac. Apparently, the review team members were so afraid and intimidated by the demonstrators that they cancelled the first day of the hearing.

"They feel that they are not in a safe environment," said Heiltsuk First Nation Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett during a community meeting in Bella Bella on Sunday night, the Canadian Press reported.

Slett said a notice from the joint panel was received shortly after members Sheila Leggett, Kenneth Bateman and Hans Matthews arrived at the Bella Bella airport to a rowdy welcome by demonstrators. Opponents also lined the road from the airport to the village to demonstrate concerns about the plan to pipe Alberta oil across B.C. to port in Kitimat for shipment overseas. Slett told the community meeting that the airport reception was emotional and powerful, but remained respectful and peaceful.

"We want to let them know that they are completely safe in our community. It is really offensive to have to go over to convey this to the Joint Review Panel. We are a peaceful people," she said, according to the CP.

Also, many of our own children joined the hunger strike to support the protest of the Enbridge pipeline. A 48 hour fast was held on the Cheyenne River Reservation which coincided with the hunger strike in Bella Bella. Our young people demonstrated great courage and strength in vowing to fast to bring awareness to the deadly oil pipelines which the wealthy oil companies want to build.

First Nations and Lakota children organized themselves to hold a sacred event because they want to have clean water for their unborn children and the wamakaskan. The hunger strike by our children was done in protest of oil and other strip mining occurring in pristine rainforests, coastlines and lands inhabited by countless living beings.

Obviously, our children realize how much we actually depend on water to live. I appreciate their willingness to sacrifice their own comfort to fast and pray in order to raise awareness; wopila to everyone who supported these children over the two day event. I believe these children are the Seventh Generation in which our ancestors foreseen as vital change agents of Mother Earth.

Happy Easter.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

Related Stories:
Vi Waln: Truth, integrity and Lakota spirit is paper's mission (02/10)
Vi Waln: Four years of fresh air -- life after going smoke-free (01/06)
Vi Waln: A month of some dark anniversaries for Sioux people (12/23)

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