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Supporting Standing Rock

Although the resistance camps have been dismantled, the struggle isn't over for one pair of activists — and many others like them

By Carolyn Pogue

Last fall, The Big Apple received a wake-up call from Anne Spice, of Claresholm, Alta., and her partner Matt Christler, of Riverside, Calif. You might think they'd have to be loud or outrageous to catch the attention of New Yorkers. But their quiet, thoughtful manners belied powerful spirits and committed hearts.

Spice attended Claresholm United Church and is a grad of the Naramata Retreat and Educational Centre. She spent five summers there, leading several youth training components, and it seems this time prepared her to work on the serious issues. Anthropology students working on their PhD theses, both Spice and Christler manage to stay engaged in the community and in activism while teaching and continuing their own research. They personify energy, vision, courage and common sense — just what the world needs.

After spending a summer in northern British Columbia, standing with the protectors of the Northern Gateway pipeline route, Spice resumed her studies at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center in August 2016. But news of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota had lodged in her heart. She and Christler asked themselves, “Who in NYC is organizing a march or demonstration in support?” But no one was. And so, they gathered a few friends and got on social media. On Sept. 9, they helped welcome 2,000 New Yorkers to the city’s Washington Square to learn about the issues, pray with Elders and dance to the beat of drums.

Matt Christler and Anne Spice. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
Matt Christler and Anne Spice. Photo by Carolyn Pogue

That day didn’t just mark the beginning of more than their university year. It began a season of intense organization of teach-ins and lectures. “We saw people begin to acknowledge territorial land,” Spice said, adding that people are thirsty for knowledge about how environmental, Aboriginal and peace issues, for example, connect. Christler said that the size of the groups was a testament also: "We'd prepare for 70 people for a teach-in, and 150 showed up.”

Next, Christler wondered if there was a syllabus available so that people could educate themselves on Sioux and territorial history, as well as the reasons for the Standing Rock camps. There wasn't, so he got to work there, too.

More than just a pipeline, Standing Rock brought together groups that had been working separately, they both said. "We have connected with people from organizations, such as Palestinian support networks, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, spiritual leaders, war veterans, and environmentalists, as well as Indigenous from First Turtle Island and the world."

Spice and Christler eventually visited the Standing Rock camps to meet with protectors and supporters, and witnessed police standing on top of burial grounds and using water cannons, pepper spray and tear gas on people trying to protect the graves. As Spice remembered it, “there were snipers and military vehicles on the hills surrounding us, and razor wire between the water protectors and the drill site."

What’s more, the two participated in ceremonies and silent prayer walks, as well as witnessed the Indigenous Youth Council make offerings of peace to the police. They described a community that was well established: a Montessori School, first-aid clinics, communal kitchens and talks around campfires. "There is renewed energy around protecting what is necessary to protect.” Spice said. “I believe that this energy has also taken root in cities across the continent."

Although the camps were dismantled over time, the story isn't over. For instance, the United Church of Canada has ideas for action and reflection on Standing Rock. And Spice and Christler plan to continue theirs: the Work of Settler Colonialism, an interdisciplinary symposium at the University of Toronto in April.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a Calgary author and longtime Observer contributor. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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