Beginning in April 2016, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and representatives from hundreds of tribal nations gathered to resist the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would pass less than a mile from the Standing Rock Reservation. Many members of the tribe consider the pipeline and its intended crossing of the Missouri River and Lake Oahe to constitute a threat to the community’s clean water and to ancient burial grounds. The grassroots movement known by the hashtag #NODAPL is considered the single largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years.
Members of Penn’s Native American and Indigenous Studies community reflect on the significance of the movement and the historic gathering of Native Americans and indigenous peoples from around the world.
Margaret Bruchac, an assistant professor of anthropology, is the coordinator for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Penn. Her scholarship focuses on Indigenous material culture, colonial history, cultural performance, and museums. Bruchac’s “On the Wampum Trail” project of restoration and research in North American museums emerged out of her repatriation research for Native communities, tracing the circulation of wampum belts and other significant items among museums and collectors.
Stephanie Mach is a Ph.D. student in anthropology and a research assistant for the Wampum Trail project with Bruchac. She is also the student engagement coordinator at the Penn Museum.
Timothy Powell is a senior lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies, consulting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and director of the new initiative at Penn called Educational Partnerships with Indigenous Communities (EPIC), housed at the Penn Language Center. Powell’s research has included digital repatriation projects in partnership with the Tuscarora Nation in New York, the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina, and Ojibwe bands in the United States and Canada.
“What the people at Standing Rock have taught us,” Powell says, “is that it’s a time for Native and non-Native people to come together, but not to assimilate Native people, but to honor them for their knowledge.”