By Jeff Abbott - Truthout, March 2, 2017
The defense of water knows no borders, according to the Mayan Ancestral Authorities, the communal authorities and elders of Mayan towns across Guatemala. This reality has led the Mayan leaders to work in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux as they challenge the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
The conflict in North Dakota between the Lakota Sioux and the company over the construction of the 3.6 billion dollar Dakota Access pipeline began in April 2016. The Sioux communities began their protest following the failure of the company to consult the tribe over the use of their tribal lands -- despite multiple requests by tribal leaders -- and a demand that the company preform an honest environmental impact report for the project.
On February 23, the National Guard and police raided the Oceti Sakowin camp, evicting the protesters. But despite the eviction, the example of Standing Rock continues to mobilize Indigenous activists across the world in defense of water. Thousands of supporters had traveled to the encampment to support the Sioux and their defense of water.
"When everybody showed up, including the clergymen of the world, I stood up on the bridge and I felt the meshing of all the religions, all the spirits, all the creators of all nations, and all the colors meshed as one people," Eddie P. Blackcloud Sr., a Sioux leader who was among the first to stand against the pipeline at Standing Rock, told Truthout. "This is more than just about Standing Rock; this is about the world."
The international support for the resistance will only strengthen as the United States Army has given the project the green light, despite the company's failure to consult the Indigenous populations impacted by the project's development.
Standing Rock and the struggle against Dakota Access pipeline have become the international example and rallying point for the defense of Indigenous territory. This resistance has brought Indigenous leaders together in solidarity from across the globe.
"Every community must arrive at its own means of struggle," Ana Lainez, an Ixil Maya spiritual guide and member of the Ixil Maya Ancestral Authorities told Truthout. "It is time for them to organize and move forward in the struggle."
Among those that traveled to Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the Sioux were five representatives from the National Council of Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala. It was raining on October 12, 2016, when the representatives of Mayan political and spiritual leaders arrived at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the Sioux. The trip was organized by the International Mayan League, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC.
"We went primarily to stand in solidarity with the Sioux communities in resistance to the construction of the pipeline," Diego Cotiy of the Council of Indigenous Authorities of Maya, Xinca and Garifuna, told Truthout. "As members of the Ancestral Authorities of the Maya, Xinca and Garifuna, we are working to strengthen the movements and resistance against transnational companies that are violating the collective rights of our peoples, as well as violating our rights to land without any collective authorization to do so."
The leaders arrived to share experiences and have an interchange between the elders, which also included the sharing of different ceremonial performances and practices.
"When we arrived, a member of the tribe stood up and offered to sing for us in his language," Lainez told Truthout. "We felt incredibly welcomed."
The Maya of Guatemala have a long history of struggle, which they shared with their brethren at Standing Rock. Since the end of Guatemala's 36-year-long internal armed conflict in 1996, the Maya communities of the highlands have resisted the increased threat of the dispossession of Indigenous communal lands by transnational capital for the expansion of mining interests, the generation of hydro energy, and the expansion of export agriculture.
"We told them that they are united in the struggle, and that they are not the first or the last to be attacked," Lainez explained to Truthout. "They are defending the river. It is [a] point of unification of many Indigenous peoples in the United States, and the world, because the water is calling us."
"Without water, even the rich leaders of the United States cannot survive," Cotiy told Truthout. "We must respect water, and where it comes from. It is a spring of life. Water is the blood of our mother earth."
Others who have traveled to Standing Rock could feel this connection as well. Pamela Bond, the Fish and Wildlife coordinator for the Snohomish tribe, was present the nights of the visit by the Maya Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala, and pointed to the way in which the visitors brought the force of their own struggle to the NoDAPL camps.
"They all brought their songs and their prayers. It is like waiting for someone to come home, and to say, 'we support you,'" Bond explained to Truthout. "There are no English words [that] can describe the feeling of your spirit, and the knowledge that people are uniting for a cause, for our first mother."