How should social activists and community organizers express meaningful solidarity with Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock to help halt the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline?

This was the question posed by Judith LeBlanc, Director of the Native Organizers Alliance, in a brainstorming session with nearly fifty workshop participants at Facing Race. “Standing Rock has changed everything,” said LeBlanc. “It is one of the first times there is a broad discussion about tribal sovereignty. There are quite a number of groups on the ground,” she said. “And we need broader participation from non-Native.”

Photo: Brian Palmer, Facing Race National Conference 2016 Presenter Judith LeBlanc (right) at Facing Race National Conference 2016.

Several attendees of the workshop had recently participated in the protest at Standing Rock. A few, like Jayeesha Dutta, had driven from Standing Rock directly to the conference. “There is historic unity of Indigenous resistance,” she said. “But I’m super concerned that this unity might be threatened by outsiders.” LeBlanc said sometimes non-Natives who are “down” aren’t necessarily effective advocates – they don’t understand the historic teachings and prayer that are at the center of the movement. Kevin Killer, who was recently elected to the South Dakota Senate, added, “in organizing, you always have to think seven generations ahead.”

This long-term outlook, which secures and strengthens the infrastructure of the movement, is what the attendees of the session determined what was most needed. Non-Natives can also work to debunk stereotypes of Indigenous people, uplift and amplify Indigenous voices, honor Native self-determination, and avoid adopting a savior complex.

LeBlanc expressed the need for more mainstream media coverage — networks such as CNN and MSNBC — so that the issues of Indigenous people are “framed as a majority agenda.” She also emphasized the importance of in-person, face-to-face organizing for supplies and funds. “Social media can’t replace kitchen table conversations about Standing Rock.” 

Timing is critical. “We need to maximize pressure on Obama during his last two months of office,” said LeBlanc. “This is his legacy.”