On February 1, 2017, Chase Iron Eyes, one of the organizers of Friday’s first annual Indigenous Peoples March on Washington, danced and sang with other Water Protectors at Standing Rock as National Guard soldiers and private security forces in riot gear encircled them. A loudspeaker blared commands to leave the area, saying it was private property owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline.
But Iron Eyes and the others would not leave. The tipis they set up formed a sacred spot called Last Child’s Camp in honor of the warrior society formed by Crazy Horse in 1873. The camp was on contested treaty land, a hill just outside the main Oceti Sakowin camp near Backwater Bridge. The Water Protectors, empowered by the ceremonies they had performed, stood their ground. Within minutes, the police arrested 76 Water Protectors, Iron Eyes among them.
In an interview with Indian Country Today, Iron Eyes explained how the warrior spirit of that day lives on and inspired the planning of the Indigenous Peoples March.
“Everyone involved in the planning of the march is connected to the NoDAPL struggle, the battle for Standing Rock. That's really where the seeds were planted,” he said.
Reestablishing the spirit of Standing Rock
Iron Eyes explained the march is meant to reestablish the unity of organized resistance established at Standing Rock. He and the other planners want to bring together and support the many Native groups fighting oppression across the country.
“The frontline movements such as Line 3, or No Bayou Bridge, or the fight against the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, the Wet’suwet’en camp, even the LNG pipelines like Jordan Cove, anywhere there's front liners, what we noticed after Standing Rock is that when mainstream media pulled away, so did the support and the spotlight. So the Indigenous Peoples March is a chance for organizers from all of those circles to come together and make sure that at least on a grassroots level we can support each other’s movements and we can boost each other’s profiles.”
The march will begin with a gathering at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. at 8 a.m. After a prayer at 9, the gathering will march to the Lincoln Memorial where speakers will discuss issues such as missing and murdered indigenous women, police violence, disproportionate rates of incarceration, Native children separated from their families both at the border and due to violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Green New Deal, free, prior and informed consent regarding resource extraction affecting Native land and the government shutdown.
Organizers announced that the Indigenous Peoples March will be relocating to the Lincoln Memorial
“Hopefully we can integrate some of these movements, these powerful social movements, spiritual movements, with some of our Indian organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Gaming Association, etc. They need to be paying attention to what's happening in the streets and they need to be a part of it.”
Native groups from all over the world will attend
Groups from as far away as New Zealand, Brazil and Africa will speak on issues they face.
“A permitted march is a very powerful statement to make in the nation's capitol,” Iron Eyes said. “In addition to that, there will be strategy meetings to find out how we can create solidarity with all the demographics in this country that are marginalized or disempowered, disenfranchised by the interests that Donald Trump is representing in the White House right now.”
Iron Eyes feels the sense of connectedness with Mother Earth that was felt by Water Protectors at Standing Rock is the key to addressing the many issues facing indigenous people. He believes leaders in business and conservative politics have separated Native people from this sense of connectedness.
“They have succeeded in separating us from our connections to anything sacred. So for us who are still standing on those truths, we want to communicate to the world in a very powerful way using our ancient technologies such as the drum, that we have to respect our own sanctity, our own divinity**.”**
Connecting politicians with the grassroots
One important goal of the march is to send a message to the newly elected people of color in Congress such as Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, of the Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas.
“There are a hundred new women in Congress, so there's entirely new energy. We feel they need to know the streets and the people, that the collective electorate of this country, have their back. When they push for a Green New Deal, when they push for a $15 per hour minimum wage, when they push to put an end to the endless war machine, to the all-privatized everything complex, and to what we feel is imposed austerity when you look at the government shutdown, people who are fighting for what's right need to know the voters in the street and on the rez have their backs. That's why we’re out here.”
Iron Eyes says the indigenous sense of connectedness with Mother Earth, with our elected leaders and most importantly with each other is the medicine the march will bring to the world.
“We have the power,” he says, “and we have a responsibility to make sure that our other institutions of civilization, institutions of economics, jurisprudence, systems of law and politics, that they all reflect an evolved sense of responsibility to ourselves and to Mother Earth. That's the broad statement that we’re trying to make.”
The defeat at Standing Rock is turning out to be a victory and the fruits of that victory will be evident at the largest gathering of Native people ever to march on this nation’s capitol.