On Thursday, Feb. 2 students across the UC system gathered to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). At UC Riverside the demonstration took place at the Bell Tower and included both a protest and cultural gathering. Throughout the demonstration, participants stood in solidarity against the construction of the potentially dangerous pipeline and to demand that the UC Regents divest any holdings in companies that are involved in the construction of the oil pipelines.
In his first days in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that would revive the construction of the Keystone XL and DAPL through the midwest region. The pipelines have been mostly controversial due to the symbolic nature of the action rather than the environmental impacts it will have, but still continues to be a source of heated debate throughout the nation. Some opponents fear that if the pipeline ruptures it could contaminate local water sources. The DAPL encroaches on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and is partly criticized due to the fact that tribal leaders were not consulted before the construction was approved.
Beginning at 12 p.m., students began to gather and distribute signs with sayings such as, “Water is life” and “Seeds Need Water, Not Oil.” KUCR, who was originally booked for an event at the Bell Tower, agreed to allow the Indian Time radio show to take over for the duration of the event and broadcast the demonstration. To start, students and other protesters volunteered to be smudged — the burning of various dried herbs that are bound together — which provides blessing and good spiritual energy, according to fourth-year and double major in history and Native American studies Josh Thunder Little. Next, they began a round dance, in which everyone joined hands and danced in a circle to tribal music. The over 50 demonstrators participated and danced for two songs.
Following the round dance, participants emphasized the importance of speaking up against injustices and called on each other to join together in times like these. One student who spoke told students to “push beyond the boundaries of the UCR campus” and pleaded that students attend the upcoming city council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. in which they will vote on Riverside becoming a sanctuary city. She said that while this may not seem to relate, it is important because “they are coming after all of us, so don’t think you’re special and that you’re not on the target list because you are. We need to stand together.”
To close the protest, the organizers, including Little, Native American Student Programs Director Joshua Gonzales and third-year double major in Native American studies and sustainability Wyatt Belardes, sang a song in unison before the group marched around campus.
The UC system currently has invested “$3.1 million in Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco, the two companies responsible for building the pipeline.” Trump’s executive order and the fact that the UC has investments in DAPL prompted Native American leaders to organize protests for the same day. Little, a Native American student who helped to organize the demonstration, said that together they began organizing the previous Monday. Little hopes that “the administration addresses this issue and is able to divest from it” and hopes for every UC to follow suit.
In regards to the attitude of the Native American community going forward, Little said they are hopeful. If they are unable to prevent the construction of the pipeline, he assured that they will continue to protest and “try to get more allies who have the power in order to stop this completion. We are never going to stop resisting, even when they do build it (…) we are never going to back down and it’s been 500 years of resistance against colonial forces on this land we now call the United States.”