By Nick Napolitano
While in Washington D.C. with the first delegation from Red Cloud High School ever to attend the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, four students from the Jesuit-run high school located on the Lakota reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota visited with students, faculty and staff at Georgetown Prep and Georgetown University.
The Red Cloud students spent weeks preparing for their trip to Washington D.C. with co-chaperones Garrett Gundlach, SJ and Americorps teacher and alumnus Gabriella Rose Fills The Pipe. Knowing they would have an opportunity to meet with the offices of elected officials from South Dakota during an advocacy day, the students identified an issue uniquely relevant to their community—the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the overarching concern of a lack of tribal consultation on these kinds of big infrastructure projects. Given an opportunity to educate and raise awareness on concerns about the impact of the pipeline to the broader Ignatian family, the Red Cloud students unanimously agreed to develop a presentation to share during their time in D.C.
Weaving Lakota language, song, and spirituality into their presentation, the Red Cloud students shared the concerns with the oil pipeline that have united the largest tribal gathering in 140 years. The students recognized that the proposed path of the pipeline is just the latest in a long line of injustices in American Indian history. In spite of that, their call to be protectors of the land demanded that they raise their voice on this environmental issue. Students shared a Lakota phrase Mní Wichóni, which means water is life. They believe it is extremely likely that the oil pipeline will leak over time, contaminating the Missouri river- a water source upon which 18 million Americans depend. For Native peoples, children are sacred, and they believe the land is borrowed from future generations. The students expressed their gratitude and awe of their elders who are using the power of nonviolent protest to try to alter the plan for DAPL.
Students and chaperones from Red Cloud High School advocate for change on behalf of their Lakota, South Dakota community.
Georgetown Prep has a long-standing relationship with the Red Cloud school, sending summer immersion groups to Pine Ridge each year. When they heard Red Cloud students were coming to the area, Georgetown Prep welcomed their delegation for a visit and tour of the school, as well as to share their presentation on DAPL. Seniors from Georgetown Prep who went to Pine Ridge last summer hosted the Red Cloud students for lunch and to share their different perspectives as high school students. Religious Studies teacher Bill Haardt called the Red Cloud students visit a privilege and blessing for Georgetown Prep. Bill added, “Georgetown Prep has been sending students for many years to the Pine Ridge reservation and Red Cloud High School, so it was fitting to open our doors to their community.” Haardt hopes the visit will deepen and strengthen Georgetown Prep’s connection with the Pine Ridge and Red Cloud communities and said, “Philámayaye, Red Cloud!” (thank you in Lakota)
Georgetown Prep students who completed immersion programs in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, invited Red Cloud students to lunch at GPrep.
Following their participation and presentation at the Teach-in and advocacy visits on Capitol Hill, Red Cloud students headed to Georgetown University. Welcomed by the Center for Social Justice and Campus Ministry, the Red Cloud students joined Georgetown students for a tour of campus and a meal, and to inquire about academic programs, religious life and student activism on campus. Hannah Wingett, a Georgetown University student who led the tour, had a deep impression from their time together, saying, “The Red Cloud students were so incredibly passionate, kind, curious and engaged—spending a few hours with them was an absolute honor.” During the tour, Hannah took the Red Cloud students to Red Square—a campus free speech place where students stage protests and advertise for events. The Red Cloud students broke into a cheer when they heard Hannah was planning a protest to raise awareness about and advocate against the DAPL project. Georgetown students are engaged in a number of environmental justice issues, but the Red Cloud students’ personal connection to DAPL has led them to be knowledgeable and effective advocates. “They care so incredibly much,” Hannah noted, “and while that passion can be difficult in activism, it can also be a huge asset. Activists who care deeply about their cause often do more for their cause.”
On December 5, 2016, the Department of the Army announced that it would not allow the pipeline to be drilled under the Missouri River and that it would look for alternative routes, a positive response to concerns expressed by thousands of Native people and environmental activists. It is unclear how this decision will be impacted by the Trump administration. Several campers said there were too many uncertainties surrounding the Army’s decision for them to leave the camp. For those looking to learn more, Garrett Gundlach, SJ, has compiled a document of news coverage on the issue.