Denendeh to Dakota: N.W.T. activists head to Standing Rock to join pipeline protests

A small group of activists from the N.W.T. is driving to North Dakota this week. They're planning to join Indigenous people from across North America protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Drums and banners at Yellowknife rally to raise funds for 5 leaving for North Dakota

Around 60 gathered in downtown Yellowknife at noon, Tuesday to show solidarity with people opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. (Mark Rendell/CBC)

Jiah Dzentu says she's willing to be arrested.

The 19-year-old is one of five people from the Northwest Territories planning to drive to North Dakota this week to join the protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

People from across North America have been gathering at several camps north of Cannon Ball, N.D., since April, in an attempt to prevent the final stretch of of the $3.7 billion US Dakota Access Pipeline from being built.
Jiah Dzentu is one of five people from the N.W.T. heading to North Dakota this week to join the Standing Rock pipeline protests.

"At this point we really need people who are willing to be arrested, to be on the front line, to be willing to put your body on the line, to be willing to go through the state, to go through the jails, to show the world we're still there," says Dzentu.

"It's just another thing the state has to do, another person they have to process, more money that they have to waste on us."

Dzentu says she'd planned to join the camp later this month but, hearing reports that construction was speeding up and seeing videos of mass arrests, she decided to head down early.

"It's going to take a week for them to continue and finish everything up so it's a time crunch," she says. 

Denendeh Against DAPL

The small group heading south — which Dzentu says includes Snookie Catholique and Daniel T'seleie, who have both already spent time at the camps — has been rallying support at home over the past week, organizing around the hashtag #DenendehAgainstDAPL. 

Denendeh is the name for the Dene homeland.

At noon on Tuesday, around 60 people with drums, banners and placards gathered in front of the post office in downtown Yellowknife to show solidarity with Standing Rock and raise money to purchase and transport winter gear to the camps. 

"A lot of these people aren't from the northern parts of the States. They're from much warmer climates; they might not know what they're doing," says Dzentu.

"Nobody there really knows how to set up a wall tent, so we can set up the wall tents, we help get the firewood all together, we can help people winterize and keep the fires going."

The encampment near Cannon Ball, N.D., in September. The group from N.W.T. plan to help protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline prepare for winter camping. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

'We have a history with pipelines here'

Dzentu isn't sure how long she'll be in North Dakota.

"Two weeks, three weeks, a month. If the camp stays, I'll stay as long as I can. If the camp goes, I'll pack up and come back here, I guess."

She said she recognizes the potential dangers of the situation, but says it's about building Indigenous solidarity across North America. 

"This is primarily an Indigenous issue: asserting Indigenous sovereignty, having the treaties respected, having our voices listened to when we say, 'No, we don't want this industry here.'

"When industry comes to the North again, I'm hoping our people in Denendeh will rally. I'm hoping that people elsewhere will rally to come up here and protect us as well."

The sentiment is echoed by Peyton Straker, who's helping organize the group.

"We have a history with pipelines here," says Straker. 

"The Indian Brotherhood and Dene Nation have a history of turning pipelines away, and I think a lot of us are really inspired by that. I think why it's relevant to us is because I think a lot of us feel Standing Rock is not a standalone situation, it's kind of symbolic of what's happening all over the place and what we're up against."