RIO RANCHO, N.M. — In a show of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, Bernalillo High’s Native American student club presented a lunchtime powwow Wednesday and collected over 30 cases of water for Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.
Members of the Hahn Youth Council – named after a Pueblo word for “Native people” – danced, sang and shared stories in a school dining area while classmates ate pizza and sandwiches.
Gina Christy, the group’s leader, choked up as she talked about the Sioux’s fight against an oil pipeline they believe threatens their sacred lands and access to clean water from the Missouri River.
“We are proving we are strong – we will continue to be strong,” said Christy, a Michigan native whose mother is Acoma and father is Saginaw Chippewa.
Christy told the Journal she was horrified to hear that pipeline protesters had been blasted with water cannons a month ago in freezing temperatures, likening it to the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s.
The 17-year-old senior said she had hoped the country was past these battles.
“It is hard to see it happen again,” Christy added. “I didn’t expect it to hit me as hard as it did.”
Her classmate, Ilai Sandoval, 16, was so moved by the #NoDAPL movement that he drove 24 hours to visit the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota with his cousins a month ago.
For nearly a week, Sandoval talked to protesters, drawing inspiration from their dedication and passion.
“It was great to see all those people coming together to support Standing Rock,” Sandoval said.
The group scored a victory on Dec. 4, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a critical easement for the pipeline crossing under Lake Oahe and vowed to “explore alternate routes.”
Sandoval was on hand for the announcement, which drew cheers and applause in the camp.
Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the pipeline construction firms, have said they will continue to push their plans ” without any additional rerouting.”
When Sandoval got back to Bernalillo High, he looked for a way to help the remaining protesters and remembered that they were running low on bottled water.
He and about a dozen other members of the Hahn Youth Council helped organize a schoolwide water drive last week, which was approved by the district and ultimately collected 30 to 40 cases.
A representative from the Jemez Pueblo will travel to Sacred Stone Camp to deliver the water, along with a banner that reads “Spartans Stand in Solidarity,” referencing the school mascot.
After the powwow, students added their signatures and colorful handprints around the bright red letters.
Lorilei Chavez, Bernalillo High Native American liaison and the Hahn Youth Council’s sponsor, said she was proud to see her kids come together to show their pride and unity.
She stressed that the council is against violent protest but supports peaceful demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“I really wanted this to be student-driven,” Chavez said. “The Spartans have done their part in sending a message. We have Native youth here at this high school with the capacity to stand up for something they believe in.”