For days, images of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota lingered in Erica Ryan-Gagne's mind, and kept her awake at night.
Thousands of people have joined the tribe in solidarity against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a four state, $3.8-billion oil pipeline that will cross the Missouri river and, many fear, endanger the water supply for millions, and disturb traditional sacred burial grounds. It's been called the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than a century.
"Something inside was saying 'just go for it,'" said Ryan-Gagne, who hails from Haida Gwaii, an archipelago on the north coast of British Columbia.
She decided to embark on the 30 hour drive to Standing Rock, and wrote a public letter calling on support from the leadership of the Haida nation, with Ryan-Gagne acting as the representative for Haida Gwaii.
She said support from the Haida nation now would be especially helpful, as two chiefs were stripped of their titles earlier in the year for accepting money from the oil giant Enbridge and supporting another proposed pipeline in BC.
"If I can show up with [a letter of support for the people at Standing Rock] from the council of the Haida nation, it's going to have a heavier impact," she said. "People want to help. People want to show support in some way but they just don't know what that looks like, feeling like they have a local face to stand up and do it, say 'let's go.'"
And she's not alone. From across Canada, Indigenous people, allies, and environmentalists have traveled south of the border to join in a largely peaceful protest against a project they believe could have serious consequences. It's been punctuated by clashes with law enforcement. More than twenty people have been arrested in recent weeks on charges including disorderly conduct and trespassing. As recently as this weekend, violence erupted after tribal officials said construction crews destroyed burial and cultural sites on private land. The Associated Press reported that protesters were pepper-sprayed and bitten by dogs owned by a private security company brought into the area. Several people were reportedly injured in the clashes from both sides.
Standing Rock is challenging the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant permits for the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Parterns' Dakota Access pipeline. A US federal judge will rule before Sept. 9 on whether to halt construction on the pipeline.
Anna Allan, a youth coordinator for the Skidegate Youth Centre (Hiit'aGan iina Kuuya Naay), will also be making the trek to Standing Rock.
Allan says the trip is not only about showing support, but it will act as a learning experience for her and those who join her on the road to Standing Rock. For her and Gagne-Ryan, the protests in the States hit close to home.
"It ties into how these companies, even the governments, that are coming in and wanting to access these water systems that directly impact First Nations people and lands that directly impact people in a form of modern day colonialism really," Allan says.
As part of her duties for the youth centre, Allan was recently on Lillooet Island for various cultural activities. Allan, several First Nations youth and others had a discussion about the LNG pipelines and the devastating effects it would have on the salmon who start their journey at Flora Bank.
"Based off of that education as well, part of going [to Standing Rock] is to see what that process is like," Allan said.
"If we need to stand up to protect our waters here with the same intensity that they are there, I want to be informed," she added. "If we're making the journey there to stand in solidarity, I hope that if it gets to that point here, if we make that call out for others to come stand with us in solidarity, that we'll have that reciprocal support."
Allan says it's important to note that regardless of location, Indigenous people have a deep connection to the land. They depend on it and its waters for food, ceremony and spirituality.
"Our community is so reliant on the water," Allan said of Haida Gwaii and its people. "I couldn't even imagine not even being able to access the land and the water for food or drinking. That's part of what the struggle is down there as well."
"This battle, while it's in America, it's about unity, strength in numbers, standing together for what's right," she said. "You never know when it's going to be your turn."
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