Why this N.W.T. Dene woman joined pipeline protests in North Dakota

Snookie Catholique says she knew in her heart that she should be in North Dakota last week. She travelled there to join the pipeline protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, recalling how people came to support N.W.T. First Nations during the Berger Inquiry.

'It was an experience I will probably carry for the rest of my life,' says Snookie Catholique

'There was no hesitation, I just got on that plane and I just went,' says Snookie Catholique, shown here in North Dakota. (submitted by Snookie Catholique)

Snookie Catholique says she was in a friend's kitchen talking about the pipeline protests in North Dakota, when she realized what she needed to do.

"I was telling her, 'You know what, I should be there. I really should be there. That's where my heart is.'"

With that, Catholique, a former CBC North broadcaster and Northwest Territories languages commissioner, started making plans.

For weeks, thousands of people have been gathering at camps around Cannon Ball, N.D., a town within the Standing Rock Reservation, to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline — a $3.8 billion project that's supposed to transport light sweet crude oil from the Bakken oilfield near the Canadian border to Illinois.

One of many teepees at Standing Rock. (submitted by Snookie Catholique)
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says it's crossing through sacred sites and threatens drinking water.

"It really caught my attention because of what we had gone through here in the Northwest Territories," said Catholique, who's from Lutselk'e.

"When I think about what our own people went through with the Berger Inquiry, we asked for help and all these supporters came and they supported us."

The landmark inquiry 40 years ago, led by Justice Thomas Berger, put a stop to a natural gas pipeline planned from Alaska, down the Mackenzie Valley, to Chicago.

"We prevented the pipeline from going through down the Mackenzie Valley," said Catholique.

She wanted to show the same support to Native Americans in North Dakota. The U.S. federal government stepped in Friday to demand a "voluntarily pause" in construction in an area that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says holds sacred sites and artifacts.

But not before Catholique had a chance to show her support.

"No one was doing anything from the Northwest Territories to show that kind of support back to some of these people that offered it when we needed it."

'It was just totally unbelievable how many people were there that day,' says Snookie Catholique. (submtited by Snookie Catholique)

'Sense of unity'

Driving into the massive camp, Catholique says the number of people she saw was "totally unbelievable."

"When we crossed the bridge and that camp came into view, my heart was just pounding. It was like, I had come home and I had a mission and this is where I needed to be."

Violence has erupted at Standing Rock, with protesters and security guards getting injured and pepper sprayed.

But Catholique says that was on the "front line" and was "totally different" than the peaceful protests she was apart of.

"There was just a sense of unity," she says.

"This was just a peaceful protest only. We just want the government to hear that we do not support the Dakota Access Pipeline from going through our sacred lands. That's all we want."

First Nations and Native American tribes' flags are erected in a show of support. (submitted by Snookie Catholique)

'Without water we can't do anything'

Catholique says people need to be more educated about how important water is in day-to-day life.

"We are surrounded in industry and look at what we're sitting on, we're sitting on arsenic," she says, referring to the Giant Mine cleanup in Yellowknife.

She points to an experience she had washing dishes with her four-year-old grandson recently.

"He said, 'you know, water is really important, without water we can't do anything.'

"He understands at a young age how valuable water is to us. The message was quite clear down in North Dakota that water is life."

On Friday, a U.S. federal judge ruled against the request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop work on the pipeline, but federal intervention means there will be a consultation with First Nations.

For Catholique, the trip to Standing Rock will have a lasting impression.

"It was an experience I will probably carry for the rest of my life."

with files from Lawrence Nayally