TaSina Sapa Win, middle, protecting her people's territory during the Standing Rock movement. Pic courtesy of Adam Alexander Johansson.
TaSina Sapa Win is a grassroots organizer of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a descendant of a long line of resistance stretching back to her ancestors Kangi Wiyaka (Crow Feather), Chief War Eagle and Chief Gall.
Life was meaningless to us rez cats before the eleven month standoff between Chief Sitting Bull’s modern tribe and the greedy oil company, Energy Transfer Partners, in 2016. Most of us came from homes that are plagued with alcohol, drugs, rape, and violence--all of which stemmed from a long history of genocide against our people. We didn’t know much because our education system has failed us for generations.
To be Lakota in today’s society meant to be a dropout alcoholic or drug addict long before your twentieth birthday. Of course, there are select handfuls of us that actually beat the numbing statistics and pursue a college degree to become role models for our tribes. However, when this occurs, we rarely see these “role-models” again and when we do, it’s usually during the holidays at our local bar.
Around the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, most live their lives entwined in a systematic routine that repeats itself day after day, year after year. Sometimes, the outlet to we choose to mask the everyday pain we live with with is too obvious. For example, I would work, go to class, and get drunk and stoned at night or on the weekends only to make trouble and eventually sit a couple mandatory days in Walter Miner Law Enforcement. There are thousands just like me who continue to live this type of lifestyle because this is all we know. When you colonize a tribe made up of warriors, you’ll find that you’ve forced them into a lost world with no idea how to survive in it. Sickness and the desperation to become an ideal American poisons the mind and tricks us into succumbing to be nothing more than what Hollywood has portrayed us to be--we are “drunken injuns” selling beadwork by the roadside to earn a buck after losing our job due to a failed drug test or for unexcused absences that involved a 3-day drinking binge.
For me, I lived a somewhat fortunate life compared to my friends. I came from a family who had a reputation for succeeding at their dreams and went on to be well esteemed lawyers, doctors, councilmembers or like my great-grandfather, a chairman of our tribe. However, even though many of our people would think that we lived “the good life”, that didn’t stop the historic trauma that trickled its way down to my generation. Just like any other family around the rez, we too suffered from alcoholism, drug abuse, rape, incest and domestic violence -- we were just better at hiding these secrets.
Secrets. . .Skeletons tucked away neatly under a good name and locked in a closet with no intent on finding a key to free them. That is, until my generation decided to rise up.
Every plague or sickness has a source. For us Indigenous Peoples of these lands this source happens to be no other than the wasicu. Wasicu is Lakota for “fat-takers” or “white person” or better yet, as the United Snakes of the American Government and the greedy resource extraction companies that they support. Corporations like TransCanada, Energy Transfer Partners and Enbridge have always played key factors in the ongoing drug and sex trafficking that infests our reservation borders. Any time they want to put an oil pipeline or extraction mine, “man camps” are built to house their workers. When these camps are built, the rates of our indigenous women and men going missing and murdered skyrocket and somehow drugs become bountiful. Coincidence? I think not.
Today, my tribe, along with several other bordering tribes are facing yet another threat by these fat-takers. TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is undergoing the final permit processes to begin constructing the near 2150 mile crude oil route stretching from Hardisty, Alberta Canada on down to Steel City, Nebraska.
How many stolen sisters are projected to end up missing/murdered once these camps are built? How many addicts or drug lords will target our sovereign communities? How much blood will be spilled by the hands of these destructive companies? How long before our children can no longer drink from or swim in the over 220 bodies of water this pipeline plans to snake under? What type of animals or plant life will become extinct once this pipeline breaks? How much longer before this planet becomes too toxic due to this fossil fuel addiction? How many people will care?
We must fight because these battles will never be over. Just like our fallen warrior, Crazy Horse, we must protect all that is sacred so that our future generations can have a shot at life. When asked “why are you on the frontline fighting for climate and social justice?” my answer is simple… To put an end to the ongoing genocide that me and my people have endured since the colonizer stepped foot on these lands. I then ask myself this: What type of ancestor will you be?
It all comes down to what type of ancestor I want to be for my descendants. Do I want to be a regular nobody that did nothing to protect our planet or do I want to be like Crazy Horse who fought and died for the little bit of land that we have left to protect? We have that chance right now to make that decision. This kind of resistance runs through all of our blood because we are the Indigenous Peoples of these lands. It's at vital choice for the survival of humankind.