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Tipis on the Mall


How soon the course of history forgets the footsteps of the past. Displaced individuals, unheard voices and the cries of the Earth called 10,000 to gather strong in protest to ‘Respect & Protect.’  A new day dawned on Capitol Hill Saturday, April 25; not your typical weekend activity in DC, as joggers, school groups, and tourists gazed in amazement with tipis between Capitol Hill and the shadowing cast of the Washington Monument.

tipi camp

I arrived in DC with warriors; a man of the Lakota Sioux, a Cheyenne man and a film maker.  As we walked the streets of DC, people would point; ‘Look there’s an Indian.’ In DC, the grid is high power and it’s not your day-to-day reality to see men dressed in full regalia marching in the streets.  Ribbon shirts, eagle plumes and ancestral bonnets lined the front procession.  Almost four decades has passed since a tipi has stood ground in protest on Capitol Hill and this time the request is an awakening.

Around 9 am, a Grandmother of the Rosebud Sioux prayed for the sacred waters of the Ogallala aquifer and the communities most impacted by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as echoes of a helicopter loomed hovering overhead.  It was a prayer of remembrance of our connection to our water, to our Earth, and to those future generations effected by the silencing of a Nation.  The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Elder asked for prayers of compassion for those in political office to remember their origins and request that we stand to provide a future of clean air and clean water for all our children – as we are ONE.


Fracking smacking, blasting mountains, destroying communities – we are all tied to the corporate machine while standing a strong front line for the protection of our Earth worldwide.  Don’t throw this away as new age fufu; these are new words to transition out our molded way of thinking allowing us to create a new story.  “Change is coming.  Why not stand up and put America on the right side of history?  We need to end the age of fossil fuels and move onto something better” states Neil Young.

“Hey, Hey Obama.  We don’t want no pipeline drama” chants the crowd as the procession marches pass Capitol Hill.  Beyond race, creed, or tribal family; thousands gathered in unison for the protection of the Earth Mother.  A peaceful yet powerful protest with a whisper from the wind as eagle feathers flew from warrior’s braid.  The strength of the buffalo carried throughout the march and brought the great giving capacity of compassion and spiritual foundation – a deeply-held component of the social movement that was long removed since MLK and now being set as a head cornerstone.

“We’re here to show Obama, to show Washington DC the very faces of the people that the decision of the KXL pipeline represents,” Dallas Goldtooth, one of the activists from the Cowboy and Indian Alliance. “These people represent families, they represent communities, they represent entire nations, so they’re here to bring their stories here to say no to the Keystone XL pipeline and to all pipelines.”

The peaceful protest held in the aftermath of yet another postponed decision by the Obama administration on the pipeline construction spoke clear that tar sands are not a viable energy source for a clean future.  With tar sands refinement processes emitting a thirty percent increase of carbon emissions in comparison to conventional oil processing methods, not to mention, the byproducts of sludge, the large amounts of water and energy needed during the refinement process – all to obtain a low-grade fuel to power our jets, trucks and cars – tar sands extraction, processing and combustion (use) are directly at odds with the necessary change from fossil fuels reliance that Young spoke of.


We Got a Story… This is Native Territory

The sacred fire was issued a permit to exist on Capitol Hill during the weeklong rally, similar to the filing of an EPA 404 permit; and the presence of the fire brought unity to the movement along with a realization of common ground, unlike the usual 404 permit that allows legal discharge of toxic waste.  Environmental celebrities and some of the big green groups showed; with Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth, Bill McKibben of, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity along with musician Neil Young and actor Daryl Hannah on the front lines.  Cowboys and Indians organized a powerful imagery of protest as leaders rode horseback; others on foot, followed by thousands of protesters in procession – numbers nearing 10,000.

The significance of the rally lies in the foundational backing of spiritual cohesion.  Outside of specific issues that people face day to day, the common ground upon which all activists stand is the protection of the Earth; at all cost.  We are the ones we have been waiting for and eagle plumes flew on the braids of warriors and the strength of the buffalo allowed the giving nature of compassion to all relations.  This day carried a ray of hope for a return to an understanding of the value of clean water, the value of healthy communities and that our actions sent waves of reaction into future generations yet to come.

There is a simple yet truthful awakening that we are all connected.  In the age of technology and objective thinking rationalizing environmental destruction by economic numbers, we are realizing that our Earth has no price tag.  Human health is a sign of environmental health – where communities are becoming lab rats at the expense of progress with our objective mindset.  The rally in DC to ‘Respect & Protect’ shifted the rational mind to a more subjective perspective, a return of the feminine one could say.

SHENNA FORTNER lives in Appalachia. She has seen first-hand the damage of industrial civilization in her work studying tropical reefs. She has been active in the fight against the abomination of Mountain-top Removal coal extraction in her native bioregion. She will enter Vermont Law’s esteemed environmental law program this Fall. She can be reached at:

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