WASHINGTON — Marchers from Arizona to Minnesota to Wisconsin streamed through the streets of Washington DC for the Native Nations Rise march this Friday. They braved chilly rain and wintery winds to assemble in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's legal battle with the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Some carried fistfuls of burning sage that perfumed the air for blocks, others carried flags and signs. Despite the cold, many marchers arrived decked out in vivid regalia, marching side-by-side with activists who'd showed up with umbrellas and sweatshirts.
The Native Nations Rise march capped off a week of indigenous awareness activities in the nation's capital organized by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Native Organizers Alliance.
This same week, the legal fight to block the Dakota Access pipeline was dealt a blow when a judge denied the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe's request for an injunction.
Those gathered at the march insist that the fight is not over.
"The world is watching, you guys" one woman yelled, as activists who had lined up outside the Government Accountability Office waited for the march to begin.
Starting in front of the offices of the US Army Corps of Engineers, which recently gave a green light to the pipeline, the march paused at the Trump International Hotel, and ended just north of the White House, where chairmen from Yakama Nation and Standing Rock Sioux asked those gathered for unity in raising the voices of indigenous people everywhere.
"Donald Trump tried to say that people didn’t care about the Dakota Access Pipeline," Tracy Molina, 44, who lives on the Yakama reservation in Washington State, told BuzzFeed News. "This march is to show that indigenous people still exist we’re still here, and tribal sovereignty needs to be honored and respected."
Molina said she visited the Standing Rock camp in December, and also in February, ahead of the eviction of protestors there.
The rain got heavier, and the waiting crowd killed time with drumming and prayer songs. Someone passed out granola bars and fruit.
Jody Gaskin, an Ojibwe member, arrived in Washington DC from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on Thursday, and slept in the tipis set up on the national monument.
"We’re here to raise awareness that the Earth is our source of life, not a resource, not to be used and thrown in the garbage," he told BuzzFeed News. His message for Trump was simple, he told BuzzFeed News: "Fuck off, you asshole."
Gaskin said he had been at Standing Rock camp in November and December. "I got gassed, and hit with water and with those bean bag things they shot at us. They were shooting at our crotches," he said.
Nicholas Budimir and his step-daughter, Gabriel, turned up at the march after noticing the tipis set up at the National Monument grounds.
The two were visiting from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to see the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
"We said there's no way we're missing this. It's the most important movement going on today," Budimir told BuzzFeed News.
J.E. Herald-Zamora said she was marching to honor her grandmother, who fought a pipeline in Wisconsin and went to Standing Rock, but could not make it to Washington DC.
She said she also wanted to honor the "two spirit" community, "which is the LGBT community in the native scope of things," she told BuzzFeed News. "Minorities in the LGBT community are at higher risk to be victim of a hate crime."
When the group arrived at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, a tipi was quickly erected in front of the barricades that were posted in front of the building. The marchers chanted, "Mni Wiconi. Water is life."
Women danced in a circle around the construction, then someone brought out a cardboard cutout that looked like the president. The effigy was hit with sticks. The tipi got dismantled, and the march continued down Pennsylvania Avenue.
A giant black puppet snake which had "No consent" painted across its side consistently attracted a crowd. About half a dozen people helped carry it.
"It's a prophecy and it represents the pipeline," Betsy Richards, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who lives in Brooklyn, told BuzzFeed News. Richards said she was there at the march representing The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communications firm.
When the group reached Lafayette Square, in front of the White House, Standing Rock chairman Dave Archambault II was among the first to address the gathering.
"We are in the 21st century. This is no longer a matter of explorers and imperialists, savages and infidels," he said. "We are all Americans and above all we are all human beings."
He noted that several minority groups in the US were beginning to feel marginalized the way Native people have felt for years. Archambault called on the crowd to band together in speaking up for indigenous rights.
"You stood with us at Standing Rock, and now I ask you to stand with our indigenous community around the world. And together we can rise," he said.
Nidhi Subbaraman is a Science Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Nidhi Subbaraman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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