- Christian Guzman
Friends and family joined Chicana elder, Xochitlmilko (second from the left) in singing Lakota songs at Badfish Skateshop in San Pedro. The group raised money for protestors at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Photo by Jessie Drezner
By Christian L. Guzman, Community Reporter
On Dec. 10, the scent of burning sage filled the air while the Lakota Bear Song reverberated through the Badfish Skate Shop in San Pedro.
Fifty people watched — contemplation and reverence in their eyes — as the singers in a circle beat a buffalo skin drum in synchrony. The song was led by vocalist Xochitlmilko, whose ancestors were Apache, Mayan and Mexica.
Xochitlmilko, affectionately referred to as “Auntie Xochitl,” and everyone else at Badfish were raising funds for 10,000 activists at the Standing Rock Lakota Reservation.
While trying to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline underneath the nearby Missouri River, activists had endured below-freezing temperatures, rubber bullets, and at least one concussion grenade from law enforcement guarding pipeline workers. If completed, the subsurface pipeline would transport Bakken crude oil more than 1,000 miles from North Dakota to Illinois; Bakken crude is more combustible than the standard crude and is produced by hydraulic fracturing, which can pollute groundwater with toxins.
“Water doesn’t care about the color of your skin or if you are a believer or non-believer,” said Xochitlmilko after she finished the song. “We all need it. And if there is no access to clean water, it doesn’t matter if you sit in the highest office in the White House or if you are the humblest two-legged five-finger … you will be affected.”
The environmentalists at Standing Rock are demanding an Environmental Impact Statement before the pipeline is permitted to be built under the source of drinking water for local tribes. Xochitlmilko explained that for them to continue their demands, they need warm clothing and money for lawyers. The lawyers are needed both to make legal challenges to the permitting process Energy Transfer Partners went through to construct the pipeline, and for liberating protesters from jail. This is particularly critical since the children of arrested activists are left alone or taken in by tribal members.
After speaking, Xochitlmilko took on another role in raising funds: she began making and selling fry-bread, which is similar to funnel cake and Indian-style tacos. Both were invented after indigenous Americans were introduced to white flour and sugar. Her fellow singers sold her hand-crafted T-shirts and pillows.
The fundraiser for the people at Standing Rock was the brainchild of San Pedro native and activist, Sarah Valdez. She became increasingly concerned about immigrant and indigenous rights after hearing President-elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric during this past presidential primary. Valdez saw an example of those rights being violated when she learned about the Dakota Access Pipeline was being built against the wishes of the Sioux.
Valdez was glad to see her peers calling for justice via social media, but she wanted to do more.
“People share things and express support, but they tend not to do anything.” Valdez said. “This was an opportunity to engage with my community on an important issue.”
Valdez began to plan the fundraiser with friends, many of whom are local artists and musicians. They decided to donate pieces of art for a silent auction and were able to get other artists to do so as well.
“We all saw Standing Rock as having the potential to be like Wounded Knee [where innocent people were massacred],” Valdez said. “American schools don’t [adequately] teach about the atrocities and genocides committed against Native Americans. We wanted to raise awareness and money to help prevent history from repeating itself.”
The artists whose pieces were on display and auctioned at Badfish included Ashley Hernando, Jackson Miriam, Ricky Hernandez and Donny Miller. The style of art varied from oil on canvass to ink prints to sketches.
The skateshop got involved after one of Valdez’s friends noticed that the owner of Badfish Skate Shop, Joshua Garcia, was among the locals showing support for Standing Rock on social media.
“There have been atrocities committed against Native Americans throughout history, but Standing Rock is happening now,” Garcia said. “I don’t want to just read about this in 20 years. If I can do something, I will. I couldn’t make it out there, but I could offer my space.”
During the silent auction, San Pedro’s the Floaters, donated their time and performed classic blues, rock and reggae.
“Sarah was over for dinner one night and asked us if we wanted to come out for Standing Rock,” said Mikey Bargeron. “We’ve been active with her before … I met my wife at a leukemia fundraiser thanks to Sarah. We had to be here.”
There was also a raffle with items donated from businesses and individuals from around the community; donors included House 1002, JDC Records, RAH: Design, San Pedro Skatepark Association, SoCal Tattoo and photography sessions from Dani Avitia and Depan Desai.
Before Valdez announced the winners, she took a moment to address the crowd.
“In our society, we take water for granted,” Valdez said. “With what’s happening at Standing Rock and in places like Flint, Mich., government and industries have shown that they don’t care about the people. We need to demand clean water and support each other.”
The crowd cheered. Fundraiser attendee, Donald Galaz, agreed.
“What’s happening over there is wrong,” Galaz said. “But what about stuff locally? What’s happening in town [including the Rancho LPG oil tanks] isn’t right. Shit can kick off here too…. We need more of our youth to get active.”
The Army Corps of Engineers was contacted for details. A spokesman said an official response was in the process of being approved by the Pentagon. No response was received by press time.
On Dec. 4, the Army Corps of Engineers decided that Energy Transfer Partners would not be issued an easement to build the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation; a full environmental impact statement will be prepared before the Corps decides to grant or deny an easement. This will allow the Sioux and others to give public comment.
Half of the activists are returning home, leaving 5,000 activists at the Standing Rock Reservation as water protectors.
“Despite the announcement of no easement, the battle continues,” Valdez said. “Energy Transfer Partners still wants to build.… We’ve had enough with that kind of corporate fascism and disrespect for treaties and indigenous rights.”
Still, the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision has caused many indigenous Americans to be hopeful of getting more respect from the federal government. Indigenous activist, Kandi Mossett shared that hope on Warren Olney’s, To the Point.
“This is the first time in history that the federal government … is uplifting our sovereignty rights,” Mosset said. “We’re looking at the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and understanding that we have grounding under the U.S. Constitution to honor and recognize treaties … It is precedent setting.”