Arapaho water ceremony planned for state park
SANDISFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Forced out of Standing Rock, American Indians have dispersed around the country to continue the work — and get arrested for it if need be.
"We came to the conclusion that all water is sacred and that all land is sacred," said Micah Lott, 24, who came to Massachusetts after a full-time entrenchment last year at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
That ended in February when the activists were forcibly removed by police after a massive encampment to try to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from completion next to a tribal water supply.
Now Lott, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe from the Wind River Reservation in Central Wyoming, has, like some other American Indian activists, come east to protest a much smaller, lesser-known pipeline in Berkshire County.
Yet it is one that has sparked a salvo of protests over the potential for environmental contamination and other issues, like the dismantling of Native American religious artifacts along the pipeline path.
"Every local community is fighting for their rights — no government can tell us that clean water and food aren't our human rights," he told The Eagle in a phone interview.
Nearly complete, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.'s Connecticut Expansion Project will span four miles here, two miles of which will flow through Otis State Forest next to two existing pipelines.
Lott was one of more than 60 activists arrested for blocking pipeline work areas in Otis State Forest since the tree-cutting work began in May on land protected by Article 97 of the state Constitution, a law that was out-muscled in court by federal commerce law.
The Kinder Morgan subsidiary's 13-mile line will also run through parts of New York and Connecticut, and will soon go live with natural gas.
Lott has organized a water ceremony near the pipeline at Lower Spectacle Pond in Sandisfield at 2 p.m. Monday, just as the company gets ready to test the pipes for leaks with over 500,000 gallons of pond water.
Tennessee Gas got a permit this week to discharge the water into an upland area above the pond. Environmental groups are concerned about chemical coatings from inside the pipes contaminating land — and eventually water — upon release.
Lott says the ceremony is essentially a blessing to protect the water, and this one will be performed by Jake Singer, a member of the Dine — or Navajo — Nation, a traditional healer and Sundance Chief who also founded Walk with Warriors, the Washington, D.C. lobby for American Indian veterans. Singer received a Purple Heart for wounds sustained during the Vietnam war.
Lott explained that this ceremony is just one way Native Americans from different tribes are coming together will other activists "for a more tolerant, peaceful and sustainable world for the next seven generations."
Lott said seven is a sacred number and one referred to in the prophecy of the black snake, which the seventh generation would defeat.
"The black snake is more than just a pipeline, more than just oil," he said, "but about the corruption and greed and the socioeconomic systems that divide us."
New camps have sprung up around the U.S. to collaborate under this mission, to serve as a drop-off point for supplies, and for training in "nonviolent direct action tactics that we learned at Standing Rock," Lott said.
He's staying at a camp called All Nationz Rising in Central Massachusetts, he said, where the focus of resistance is also on Spectra's Algonquin Expansion Pipeline, proposed power plants in Burriville and Providence, Rhode Island, and numerous compressor stations throughout New England.
Here, he's connected with other activists including those from Sugar Shack Alliance, a group of climate activists who have maintained a steady series of protests resulting in arrests all summer long.
The Water Is Life Movement, dedicated to protecting water from fossil fuels, lists 24 active camps on its website. The camps, Lott said, create central locations for Native American and other activists.
Lott also said these collaborations on the East Coast also help tackle "indigenous invisibility" that he said is pervasive here because of extensive assimilation of the tribes with whites over time.
Lott said he's been thinking about institutional racism since he was 13, when something happened on his reservation — a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that the county government's voting system had diluted votes of the Northern Arapaho and Easter Shoshone tribes and in doing so violated the federal Voting Rights Act.
That was not long ago — 2012.
At least one scholar has likened modern American Indian disenfranchisement to "the ones confronted by blacks in the South and Latinos in the Southwest," wrote Pamela S. Karlan, a law professor at Stanford Law School who wrote "Lightning in the Hand: Indians and Voting Rights."
Lott said what is often perceived as history is not confined to the past.
"This is still very much a problem," he said.
As a teenager, Lott was a member of the reservation's youth council, and then worked for the Wind River Native American Advocacy Center.
Now that Standing Rock is over, he said he's a traveler, working for clean water — and for people.
"Protecting this thing that affects all humans is what brought us all together at Standing Rock," he said.