Friday, January 27, 2017

Chickasaw Artist Kristen Dorsey Advocates for Native American Representation

Members of the Crow Nation arrive at Standing Rock
As most of you know, last November hundreds of Native American Water Protectors were gathered with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe near the Cannonball River in North Dakota where they attracted global media attention for bravely facing off against authorities and contractors to oppose the construction of a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline that would encroach on sacred tribal lands and threaten the fresh water supply for thousands of people in the region.

It is recognized by many as the largest gathering of Native American protesters in U.S. history.

And in many ways it was an awakening of both conscience and spirit.

Not just for the 566 different tribes recognized by the federal government, but for thousands of indigenous peoples around the world and millions of non-indigenous people in America and in other nations around the globe.

Set against the backdrop of the collective shock of the election of Donald Trump, the Standing Rock protests were also a timely reminder of the immense power of peaceful protest, non-violent resistance and the freedom of expression - principles enshrined in the bedrock of American values.

For young and old alike it was a lesson in the importance of standing up for what's right, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds - especially in a nation where the power of financial institutions, corporations, conservative political interests and the 1% seems to have grown exponentially.

While there was extensive media coverage of the Standing Rock protests, particularly the unforgettable images of members of law enforcement and private security using dogs, rubber bullets, water from hoses and other means to try and subdue peaceful unarmed protesters, too often it seemed as if the actual voices of indigenous peoples were lost or even somehow secondary to those images.

Now obviously there was media coverage of what the protesters wanted in terms of stopping the pipeline construction, but from my perspective, in many instances the mainstream media rarely dug under the surface into what brought those protests into being.

Chickasaw Artist Kristen Dorsey
Or what it was that drew hundreds of people from other tribes in different parts of the U.S. (and from tribes in other countries too) to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to a remote stretch of North Dakota to stand side by side with the Standing Rock Sioux.

For those interested in understanding more about the broader protest movement taking place in indigenous communities across America, the critically-acclaimed Viceland recently premiered a new series airing Fridays at 9pm called Rise.

Just go to the Viceland Website to see clips or watch episodes for free online.

The first two episodes probe deeper into the Standing Rock Protests and offer insight mainstream media didn't take the time to cover.

That said, I thought it would be appropriate to follow up my previous blog about the environmental impact of new pipeline construction in America and switch gears by sharing the powerful words of the renowned Chickasaw metalsmith, jewelry designer, business owner, feminist, activist (and surfer!) Kristen Dorsey.

She's a really interesting and multifaceted artist and entrepreneur who designs and sells custom jewelry based on the themes, traditions, customs and imagery of traditional southeastern American indigenous culture where the Chickasaw once lived and thrived until being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and moved hundreds of miles west by the U.S. government in the 1830's during what is commonly known as the "Trail of Tears."

Take a couple minutes to read an interesting interview Kristen did with author and blogger Kate Hart; it offers some insight into her work, life and advocacy for indigenous peoples and feminist empowerment.

And for you ladies out there, or guys looking for a gift for Valentine's Day, check out her Website to see some of the really cool jewelry she designs and sells.

She's got a few videos about her work on the Chickasaw Nation Video Network too if you want to learn more about what she does.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole 
Last week my friend James shared a letter Kristen wrote to the Republican Deputy Majority Whip, Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole, just over a week after Trump was elected president.

Cole is also a member of the Chickasaw Nation, one of only two Native Americans currently serving in Congress, and James felt strongly that Kristen's letter eloquently voiced the concerns and hopes of indigenous peoples across America.

People who understand that strong representation in this divided Congress is more critical than ever in the face of the threats posed to the environment, the welfare of indigenous peoples, Native American rights and tribal sovereignty by the Trump administration.

That said, here's the text of Kristen Dorsey's letter, I hope you'll take some time to read it as it offers insight into the goals and aspirations of the emerging indigenous protest movement in America and beyond.

November 15, 2016

Congressman Tom Cole
4th District of Oklahoma
2467 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Cole,

I would like to congratulate you on your many years of dedicated public service. Today I write to call on you to advocate for Native America within Congress. I understand that you are obligated to the general population of Oklahoma citizens, and not just your Native American constituents; however, it is the unfair burden of the few to represent the many when they are members of an underserved and underrepresented population.

I know that you are proud of your Chickasaw heritage and citizenship, and I know that a strong Chickasaw woman raised you to be so. I applaud and celebrate your political achievements, which give me hope that one-day more Native American voices will cry out within the walls of government. I know that we are mutually related through the bloodlines of Te Ata, who herself was an ambassador for Native People.

I call on you to hear me now. We are fighting for this land and our struggles are woefully underreported in mainstream media. Many Americans see us as extinct, absent, and conquered. Throughout history Chickasaw people have fought for our right to exist. Today our tribal Nation is thriving but my deep fear is for our future generations. They will inherit an Earth that is sick. It is sick with climate change, which is already resulting in massive ecological destruction, and increasingly dangerous natural disasters. The fossil fuel industry has left so many irreparable scars on our earth. Take for example the effects of fracking in Oklahoma. Man-made earthquakes are displacing your citizens. Take for example the Exxon oil spill, our elders cried that day because they saw our ancestral homelands in the southeast devastated by impending environmental effects that we don't even fully comprehend.

I fear for my unborn children. As I write this, thousands of Native People around the country are led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in demonstrations against the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the past few months, despite peaceful demonstrations at the construction site near the Cannonball river, our Native American brothers and sisters have been under assault by militarized police as they do everything in their power to protect sacred burial sites and a sensitive watershed from destruction. I urge you to view the on the ground footage of the violence waged against our water protectors by the North Dakota police. I also urge you to contact the Standing Rock tribal leadership to hear their perspective and gain a deeper understanding about the lack of tribal consultation over this project.

Your website states that you support pipelines because they are a safer way to transport crude oil. I hear your arguments, however, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in 2015 alone there were 715 pipeline incidents. I do understand that much of our economy is built on oil. I also understand that my children and children's children cannot drink contaminated water, or breath polluted air, or live in an ecosystem eroded by massive species die-offs due to rising temperatures. I believe that there are solutions and clean energy technologies which need research, development, and implementation. I also know that our Chickasaw Nation believes the same or Governor Anoatubby wouldn't have sent monetary support along with an official statement of support to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

I urge you to re-evaluate your policies and set your political course to move away from the fossil fuel industry. Please actively consult the scientific and tribal communities and reach across the aisle to develop a sustainable energy plan with goals of reducing emissions and dependency on oil, both foreign AND domestic. I also urge you to advocate for the United States to honor our commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. Every country must work together to save our planet for future generations. Our Chickasaw ancestors sacrificed so much for us. We must now make our own sacrifices for the sake of future generations. Leaders are the people who sacrifice the most and I understand that I am calling on you to make fundamental changes to your political platform, which has undoubtedly contributed to your political success thus far. I do not ask these sacrifices of you lightly. Our future generations need your voice now more than ever.


Kristen Dorsey (Chickasaw Nation)

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