Richard Tsong-Taatarii

Documentary Photographer
Location: Minneapolis
Nationality: United States
Biography:         Through his documentary photography work, Richard Tsong-Taatarii brings attention to the joys and tribulations of Minnesotans as a staff photographer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. He also enjoys covering... MORE
Public Story
Copyright Richard Tsong-Taatarii 2023
Date of Work May 2017 - Ongoing
Updated May 2017
Topics Native American

The thousands of protestors who came to Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota were known as Water Protectors. Their goal was to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, which they say threatened the Reservation's only water source as it goes under the Missouri River. The movement began in the Spring of 2016 when local Lakota teens from a youth council demanded that the pipeline be stopped. This new consciousness in the Native American diaspora is part of the seventh generation prophecy whereby the current generation would be able to tackle the demons that have plagued Indian country: poverty, loss of sovereignty, drug addiction, and cultural shame.

With the planet facing down global warming and the dire consequences from the abuse of fossil fuels, the Native American diaspora is positioned at a unique cultural nexus to address climate change and call for more sensible environmental policies. That is why so many environmentalists joined them at Standing Rock in a unified voice against the pitfalls of disregarding fossil fuels' impact on the earth. Their fears are not unfounded. Another pipeline in South Dakota has leaked over 500,000 gallons and is still under cleanup.

"Power is our relationship to life," said Native American activist John Trudell. Hence the call to arms during the movement was Miniwiconi or "water is life."  During the movement, activists created actions against the pipeline after attack dogs used by private security on DAPL land attacked some protesters. The situation escalated as authorities used militarized force against protesters. In early December, Sophie Wilansky nearly lost her arm to a concussion grenade. Dozens suffered hypothermia as they were doused with a water cannon in subfreezing weather.

In early March of 2017, authorities enforced the forced evacuation of Oceti Sakowin, a protest camp on Army Corps land that, at one point, swelled to 10,000 to stop the construction of the pipeline. On that day and the next, 200 police officers moved in with militarized force and arrested 46 people. Protesters were literally pushed back to the Standing Rock Reservation boundaries. During a tactical maneuver, several protesters were surrounded as others fled unto the precariously frozen Cannonball River.

            President Trump has approved the Pipestone XL Pipeline which traverses "right through the heart of the Oceti Sacowin Treaty area," according to Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. These are rights that were negotiated before the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. This pipeline, like DAPL, willfully ignores the treaties, Goldtooth says. The XL Pipeline crosses over the Oglala Aquifer that supplies much of the water for Midwest agriculture: "The potential for a spill there is far too great of a risk for not only tribal members but for non-native people to take in this region," says Goldtooth.

            The #NODAPL movement, which entwined environmentalists with Native American activists, is part of a new consciousness to protect the land from environmental abuse, especially when Native American rights are trampled or ignored. The movement echoes the Standoff at Wounded Knee and the Occupation of Alcatraz Island by the American Indian Movement (AIM), which also signaled a new consciousness for sovereignty and against federal corruption in the management of tribal resources.  

            The body of work I submit demonstrates a commitment to documenting this new consciousness. My goal with the funding of this grant is to document current and future actions of the Native American environmental movement. The protest movement for the construction of the XL Pipeline is already taking shape near the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Time to plan coverage.

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