When you hear the terms ‘peaceful protest’ or ‘non-violent opposition’, if you know anything of our history, your mind thinks of two powerful leaders: Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. What you may not think of is a group of young First Nations members who were, in fact, the driving force behind the Standing Rock movement.
Names such as Danny Grassrope, Lauren Howland, Leanne Redleaf, Terrell Iron Shell, and Thomas Lopez do not come to mind—but they should, as several founding members of the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC), because these are the voices that have begun an indigenous rising movement in the US that is long overdue. The focus has been on the Dakota Access Pipeline which now runs within feet of the tribal lands and threatens to pollute valuable water resources for hundreds of thousands of people. The pipeline, despite all their efforts, is scheduled to open this week.
What you may not know, due to media coverage and the constant boom that was coming from the Morton County Sheriff’s office, is that these individuals started a movement based on the power of prayer to effect real change in the world. This movement isn’t just about stopping an oil pipeline from being constructed near reservation lands, it’s about human dignity, honouring the treaties signed from 1851 onwards, regaining their cultural and religious heritage; it’s about much more than merely protecting access to clean water and sacred lands.
In a recent ABC News special report posted on 7 March 2017, which all IIYC quotes are taken from, Terrell Iron Shell states:
We’ve been silent for so long […] Our identities were taken from us; our voices were taken from us, and now we have them back and we aren’t going to stand for broken treaties and political prisoners anymore. This is the seventh generation.
And while the disgraceful treatment from the American government could turn all these young people into true violent revolutionaries hell-bent on making things right, this amazing group of people choose peaceful prayer over violence to further their cause. They are learning, growing, and becoming important figures in a battle many of us know little about. Thomas Lopez states:
We’re healing with one another allowing ourselves to become the leaders that we know we are.
This group sees themselves as the generation that will finally take a vocal stand to protect water and the environment; they stand for sovereignty for future generations; they protect their sacred sites (burial and ritual) and see themselves as ‘Protectors’ and not ‘Protestors.’
Non-violence is a core aspect of this movement, and they sought guidance through their faith prior to beginning at Standing Rock. Martin Aranaydo with the Indigenous Peoples Power Projects states in the ABC special that they sought the assistance of a Spirit Guide and that the Spirit responded:
As long as people are peaceful and prayerful in this fight, we will win.
The Forgiveness Walk to the Morton County Police Station (held during the #NoDAPL movement) was organised to confront hatred with love, peace, and forgiveness – not only forgiving the officers that attacked those on the front lines, but also to ask forgiveness for their own poor choices. They wanted to show themselves and the world how discipline and humanity are at the centre of this battle. Lauren Howland states:
The Youth Council has always been and will always continue to be about prayer and peace.
So what about this talk of a Seventh Generation?
Seann Sweeney writes in 2012:
A common, summarized and short version of “seventh generation” derived from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nation that most of us have heard of is “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”
This long-term thinking applies not only to choices made by each Tribe regarding resources, tribal issues, and land use, but also impacts relationships, culture, and their own oral history.
David E Wilkins writes on Indian Country Media Network:
In truth, our peoples were visionary but not in a passive, new-age way. We actively tended our families and our clan-ties by holding the lives, memories, and hopes of all Seven Generations close. Each generation was responsible to teach, learn, and protect the three generations that had come before it, its own, and the next three. In this way, we maintained our communities for millennia.
What is important to note is that Danny Grassrope, Lauren Howland, Leanne Redleaf, Terrell Iron Shell, Thomas Lopez, and the rest of the IIYC ARE THE Seventh Generation of First Nation Tribes since the original signing of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. They are guided, in part, by a prophetic vision Crazy Horse had before he died:
He saw his people enter a great time of darkness. He also saw automobiles and airplanes (something not invented in his time) and also foretold of both world wars. In Crazy Horse’s vision, he saw that after the last war (World War II?) his people would gradually start to come out of their darkness. He saw them begin to dance again under the Sacred Tree. To his amazement and astonishment, he noticed that it was not just his own people dancing under the tree. There were members of all races of man dancing as brothers. Crazy Horse foresaw a time that the world would be healed and made whole again by all nations working together to make a better world.
The time is now; and the people are gathering in support of this Seventh Generation. The IIYC is a force for positive change, and you should know their names, and if so compelled, join in their battle. The Keystone XL pipeline is next; the battle is far from over for these peaceful spiritual warriors.