Youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lead the Native Nations Rise march in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017. Photo: Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Native citizens rally in nation's capital to send message to Donald Trump

In one of the largest gatherings of indigenous people in the nation's capital, thousands of Native citizens and their allies marched to the White House to stand up for their rights.

Galvanized by the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the large crowd braved wind, rain and even some snow as they gathered at the headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers early on Friday morning. The mood was celebratory yet defiant as they prepared to send President Donald Trump, who discounted Native views in approving the controversial project, a strong message.

"We are here. We resist. We rise," said Tokata Iron Eyes, a young citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose leaders have credited their youth with turning the #NoDAPL movement into an international cause.

From there, the throng slowly pushed through the streets of downtown Washington as the weather slowly cleared up. By the time marchers reached a key landmark, young Native men dubbed the "Black Snake Killers" rushed to the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House, and set up an impromptu teepee.

A contingent of Native women then made their way to the structure and performed a round dance on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, which Donald Trump's corporate organization is leasing from the federal government, an arrangement that drew criticism during the march. The teepee was eventually brought down and the crowd pursued its final destination for the rally portion of the event.

"Standing Rock changed everything," asserted Judith LeBlanc, a citizen of the Caddo Nation and one of the organizers of Native Nations Rise.

But dissension came through as Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II took the stage. Where he once would have been unanimously cheered for taking on the federal government, he was met with scattered boos from some who remain critical of his stance on the #NoDAPL encampment in North Dakota.

Following an Obama administration decision -- since reversed by Trump -- in early December, the chairman asked resisters to leave the camps and go home. Although he was carrying out the tribal council wishes, and those of the community most affected by the thousands who flocked to Standing Rock last year, critics hold him personally responsible for the removal of Oceti Sakowin, the Sacred Stone Camp and other sites.

Archambault acknowledged those who are unhappy with his leadership but urged them to be respectful of the youth who are still committed to the cause. He also said a lack of unity would distract them from the legal fight against the pipeline, as well as from struggles facing other tribal communities.

"Together we can rise," Archambault said as cheers drowned out calls of "DAPL Dave" in the crowd.

Chairman JoDe Goudy of the Yakama Nation also rushed to Archambault's defense and said the tribe's fight was common to other Indian nations. The ongoing #NoDAPL lawsuit strikes at the heart of an unfair legal and political system, he asserted.

"We must remain of one voice," Goudy said.

Alice Brown Otter, a young Standing Rock citizen, was visibly shaken by the reception shown to her tribe's leader. She has been an outspoken and eloquent opponent of the pipeline but appeared to cut her remarks short at the rally.

"This movement is about unity," Brown Otter said. "That hurt my heart when people were booing our chairman."

"Everyone should [show] respect because all of us are here for one reason," she said in urging the crowd to focus on the fight against the pipeline.

The tribe remains hopeful that the lawsuit can put a stop to the pipeline, which is just days away from being completed near Standing Rock. Oil could be flowing as soon as next week, according to the wealthy backers of the project.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has joined Standing Rock in seeking to overturn the Army Corps easement that was granted to Dakota Access just three weeks after Trump took office. Briefing continues on their motions, which may not be resolved before construction is finished.

The 1,172-mile pipeline is all but complete except for the portion on Corps-managed land less than a half-mile from Standing Rock's northern border. The firm needed federal approval to drill under the Missouri River and place the pipe beneath the surface of Lake Oahe.

Dakota Access is slated to give another status update on its progress on Monday but has already indicated that work at Lake Oahe is almost done. A federal judge asked the firm to give 48-hours advance notice of oil being placed in the pipeline -- none appeared in the court records as of 6:30pm Eastern on Friday.

"We are in danger," said Faith Spotted Eagle, an elder citizen from the Yankton Sioux Tribe, whose leaders also have a lawsuit pending against the Army Corps. She said the Missouri, which is known as Mni Sose to the Sioux Nation and supplies water to millions of Americans, is being threatened by the pipeline.

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