Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe addresses the media at the #IndigenousRising round dance in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Indigenous activists reclaim nation's capital in defiance of Donald Trump

Indigenous activists are reclaiming the nation's capital as they push back against the Trump administration's environmental agenda.

A round dance outside the Trump International Hotel shut down a busy intersection near the White House for about 20 minutes on Thursday evening. Hundreds of tribal citizens and their allies joined together in drum and in song to call attention to the struggles they are facing regarding pipelines, treaty rights and sacred sites.

"We dance to celebrate our resistance," Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said outside of the hotel, which sits on federal land and is managed by the adult sons of President Donald Trump.

Since taking office on January 20, Trump has all but declared war on Indian Country with his energy development and infrastructure policies. He approved the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline over tribal objections, moved to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border without consulting tribes and slammed his predecessor for protecting millions of acres of ancestral tribal territory in Utah.

But indigenous activists, while alarmed by Trump's actions, aren't taken aback or even discouraged. They believe that oil might never flow through Dakota Access, that Keystone XL may never be built and that the new president might not be able to withstand the pressure and scrutiny of countless elders, youth and leaders in their communities.

"Our resistance is going to outlive him," asserted Faith Spotted Eagle, a grandmother from the Yankton Sioux Tribe who has been a leading voice in the anti-pipeline movement.

The round dance, which included a practice run on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, marked the opening of the indigenous bloc of events for the People's Climate March. On Friday, organizers held a press conference outside of the White House and drew a "red line" in front of the U.S. Capitol -- home to the U.S. Congress -- to make sure people in power know Native people are ready to defend their homelands from attacks.

In preparation for the main event, indigenous women will lead the Sunrise Water Ceremony at the Capitol Reflecting Pool at 6am on Saturday morning. Ojibwe elder Sharon Day, the founder of the Nibi Walks for water is facilitating the event, which is hosted by the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Piscataway Nation, whose homelands include D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Piscataway representatives also took part in the round dance.

As for the march itself -- which coincides with Trump's 100th day in office -- the indigenous bloc will be at the head of the line. Thousands are expected to walk from the Capitol to the White House and then to the Washington Monument to call for stronger protections for the climate, air and water.

“My people will never stop fighting to protect our lands and this earth. But we can’t do it alone," Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said on Friday. “I look forward to joining our non-Native allies in the People’s Climate March. Trump and big business should beware because together I know we will beat DAPL, Keystone, uranium mining, and every threat to Grandmother Earth. ”

The indigenous battles against Dakota Access and Keystone XL are a key part of the climate change efforts. Stopping the pipelines will reduce American dependence on fossil fuels and protect tribal resources -- including water and sacred sites -- from environmental damage, according to tribal activists and leaders.

"As of today, oil is not flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline," said Joye Braun, a Cheyenne River Sioux citizen. "Your prayers are working."

After securing Trump's approval to build the final portion of the pipeline in North Dakota, the wealthy backers of the project announced May 14 as the earliest possible date for service. Cheyenne River is part of a lawsuit that seeks to prevent that from becoming a reality.

The pipeline comes within a half-mile of the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose leaders initiated the legal challenge last summer. While they have suffered setbacks in court and with Trump in office, they too remain convinced they can stop oil from flowing through their treaty territory along the Missouri River.

Both tribes have asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to set aside Trump's approval of the final easement for the pipeline. Briefing is complete but a date for a hearing -- if any -- hasn't been scheduled, according to a review of online court records.

Despite the favorable status of the pipeline, project backers insist they haven't been given enough information to counter the tribes' arguments. They have asked the judge to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that issued the easement, to turn over more documents.

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