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Native American dancers share perspective on Dakota Access Pipeline

Native American dancers share perspective on Dakota Access Pipeline

Gabe Bullock walks onto the field ready to dance at the Pow Wow event in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Native American dancers share perspective on Dakota Access Pipeline
September 22
11:20 2016

The sounds of drums and chants were alive in the air as the moon overlooked a sea of people. A flea market of jewelry, knick knacks, head dresses and more welcomed in some guests while others shared and mingled, preparing for the night’s activities. From Sept. 16 to Sept. 18, community members gathered at The Grand Prairie Trader’s Village to watch and experience the Native American culture and heritage through music, dance and art.

Trader’s Village was this year’s host of the 54th Annual Native American Pow Wow, presented by the DFW Inter-Tribal Association. Native Americans traveled from all over the United States to dance in competition, sell clothing and jewelry, eat, drink and celebrate the culture.

“It’s a celebration of their culture and their history, in music and in dance,” said Jerry Holt, marketing manager for the event. “There are tribes from all over the country that come and participate in the Pow Wow every year.”

The Pow Wow brought together members of various tribes across the country, such as William TwoHawk Gandee, a member of the Choctaw, Cherokee and Lakota tribe.

While the event is a way to celebrate Native American heritage, Gandee said he loves experiencing the culture first-hand, referring specifically to the dance competition.

“It’s more about dancing for your family and dancing for the elders that have passed on,” Gandee, who was competing in the evening’s dance competition, said. “That’s what I like to do. “

Gandee, a disabled veteran of the Navy and purple heart recipient, was born in Argyle, TX and said he’s traveled “from one end of the coast to the other” attending Pow Wows and dancing the dances of his people. Gandee, a“northern-traditional” Native American, was working in explosive ordinance disposal as a member of a naval construction battalion in Beirut in 1983. He was serving in the Navy as a “Seabea” when a truck-bomb explosion killed over 200 U.S. Marines. He said he was dancing in remembrance of those fallen soldiers.

Two women get ready for the Pow Wow event in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Two women get ready for the Pow Wow event in Grand Prairie, Texas. Hannah Ridings

“That’s why I wear this [red sash], this represents the blood that was spilled,” Gandee said, who danced in his traditional, handmade costume to represent his history and culture. “And the black and white [face paint]. If you ever see the POW/MIA flag, it’s black and white. And normally when the dancers would bring in the flags, they’d go clockwise. The POW flag goes counter-clockwise because they haven’t made it home yet.”

Brittany Taylor, a member of the Cheyenne, Ponca, Pawnee and Southern Ute tribes, travelled from Ponca City, Oklahoma to attend the Pow Wow and has been dancing in competitions nearly every weekend of the summer.

While the dances might be entertaining for spectators to watch, Taylor said the dances symbolize a deeper meaning.

Taylor said listening to the songs and dances, as well as praying, can hold healing powers and act as medicine. For Native Americans, their songs and dances act as a connection to the rest of the world.

“When we dance, we dance for those who can’t. Whenever we dance, we pray. We pray for our people, we pray for those who are going through a hard time,” Taylor said.

Healing and prayer are important for many right now Native Americans at the moment, especially with those who want to protect their land and natural water supply from being threatened by the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile-long, $3.7 billion project is a “pipeline that will connect the rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline will enable domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner”, according to the Energy Transfer Partners website, set up for the pipeline.

“A lot of these dancers have a family and some of their tribes up there supporting and protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. All four of my tribes are represented there and all of them took our tribal flags up there,” Taylor said. “We’re not just fighting for our  indigenous land, we’re also fighting for clean water and everyone who lives off of water.”

The project has been met by over “roughly 2,000 representatives from different tribes and environmentalists still active at the protest site”, according to a New York Times report on pipeline release earlier this month. Some politicians have denounced the pipeline, such as Senator Bernie Sanders, who joined Native Americans in protest at a rally in Washington, D.C. outside of the White House. The federal government has also issued a halt on the pipeline, stopping part of the project’s construction, but not all of it.

A woman holds a sign in support of Standing Rock during the Grand Prairie Pow Wow event. Hannah Ridings

A woman holds a sign in support of Standing Rock during the Grand Prairie Pow Wow event. Hannah Ridings

Nicholas Wahpepah, 36, a member of the Oklahoma Kickapoo tribe, drove from Edmond, Oklahoma to perform at the Pow Wow as a dancer. He said he knows of individuals in the area of the pipeline who are protesting, and even knew a man who was arrested onsite.

“Indigenous people are taking it upon themselves to be protectors of mother nature and the environment, and I think that’s great,” Wahpepah said. “I think it’s building a foundation for legal recourse. The only way you can fight big corporations is with the law, through legal means.”

In North Dakota, some protesters have been sprayed with pepper spray, bitten by dogs and arrested. Native Americans are protesting because the pipeline threatens their ancestral lands and their clean drinking water. Recently, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe brought representatives to a United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, asking for international help to stop the pipeline.

“My hope for an end result is a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Best case scenario is that everybody, regardless of race, will start using more renewable energies,” Wahpepah said. “I think that the people that are there now are doing a great job.”

This year, the Pow Wow was more than just a celebration. With the event came the opportunity for Native Americans in the surrounding areas to share their thoughts, concerns and feelings regarding their stance on the pipeline.

Whether event attendees were dancing, eating or debating, they were all celebrating one thing-their culture.

Featured Image: Gabe Bullock walks onto the field ready to dance at the Pow Wow event in Grand Prairie, Texas. Hannah Ridings

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Kyle Martin

Kyle Martin

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