Chants of “water is life!” rang out amid raised fists, hand-written protest signs and the booming sounds of Tohono O’odham drums at the UA standing in solidarity with Standing Rock gathering on the UA Mall earlier today.
The event, organized by the Native American Research and Training Center and eight other campus Native American groups, was aimed at showing solidarity with protestors at Standing Rock, North Dakota, in their efforts to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
If constructed, the pipeline would run underneath the Missouri River and would have the potential to contaminate water supplies for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Over 200 Native American tribes are currently involved protesting the pipeline.
The UA solidarity event attracted over 200 people and a number of local Indigenous performers, including the Tohono O’odham Starpoint Drum Group.
Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan, a doctoral student in American Indian studies, president of the American Indian Studies Graduate Student Council and member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, was helping to collect names and signatures from people attending the gathering for their petition.
Ramon-Sauberan said they had a diverse turnout of natives and non-natives, students and faculty and employees of the UA and surrounding areas.
“It’s great to see all the different signs out here and to see how many people are coming out here to support this,” Ramon-Sauberan said. “You know even though we’re in Arizona, we’re still sending all our love and our support to our brothers and sisters.”
Felina Cordova, a public health doctoral candidate and the chair of the NARTC, said that they decided to hold the gathering to collect donations for Standing Rock and to show that UA students support the protests.
She said that the event is one of the first student solidarity gatherings for Standing Rock in the nation.
“We wanted to show that, even though we’re in Arizona, not only just the Native American students here care about what’s going on up there, but also that students in general care about protecting the land and the water rights,” Cordova said. “It not only will affect just that tribe up there but tribes across the country.”
Jordan Jimmie, a hydrology and atmospheric sciences senior, member of the Navajo Nation and one of the event organizers, said he is showing solidarity not only because he is a tribe member, but because his field of study has given him an understanding of the potential ramifications of the pipeline.
“Since the tribal lands fall on a major watershed, it’s just too great a risk,” Jimmie said. “I just figured we have to stand in support.”
If you missed the gathering but still want to show your support and get involved, Jimmie says that there will be donation points for Standing Rock set up at the Native American Student Affairs Office and the NARTC.
When asked how UA students can get involved, Jimmie said that informing yourself about what is going on at Standing Rock is important.
“Really put yourself in the situation of the natives,” Jimmie said. “Would you want this pipeline built in your backyard?”
Kimberly Ortega, a UA student studying communication and American Indian studies and a member of the Tohono O’Odham nation, said that she attended the event because water is important to everyone.
“The tribes in Arizona know what it’s like to lose your water rights, to lose rivers due to the oncoming of American society,” Ortega said. “Water is sacred, water is what everyone needs, not just us.”
Follow Michaela Webb on Twitter.