Hand drumming beneath skyscrapers, Queen’s Native Students Association President Lauren Winkler led a busload of Queen’s students to a Dakota Access Pipeline protest in Toronto.
On Nov. 5, in protest of the contentious oil pipeline set for construction in North Dakota, thousands of people converged at Queen’s Park before marching down University Ave.
The pipeline has been causing controversy since September, when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota began their attempts to halt construction on the multi-billion dollar project.
The tribe has since sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop them digging beneath the Missouri River, upstream from their land, citing the negative effects pipelines have had to reserve water systems in other similar cases.
Four days prior to the Toronto event, the Queen’s Native Student Association and Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change held a meeting together where the impending event was brought to their joint attention.
The groups decided they needed to organize transportation to the event and only had 48 hours to do so.
“We were honestly worried that we wouldn’t be able to fill a whole bus. We needed a day to figure out the logistics, and then gave people 24 hours to sign up for the bus,” she said.
The bus, however, was filled with Queen’s students before their deadline. Winkler noted that people were posting on their Facebook event as well, “asking if anyone was selling their seat.”
“As an Indigenous student it was really powerful to be walking with other Indigenous peoples and allies,” she said in an interview. “I think the fact that the march was a peaceful one with little violence made a really big impact — it confronts and shuts down the stereotypical image of Indigenous resistance being aggressive and violent.”
For her fellow Queen’s students, Winkler said the opportunity to be involved in political demonstrations is powerful.
“I have learned that in order to make change you have to raise your voice and stand your ground,” she said. “And this is always easier to do when you are with a group that supports you.”
She urged students to view the individuals at Standing Rock as fighting for a basic human right to clean drinking water, a right denied to many Indigenous communities in North America, where tainted water supplies have resulted in documented cancer, skin sores and birth defects.
As daylight disappeared on Nov. 5, hundreds of attendees beat drums and sang outside of City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square. “Sometimes you have to do a big movement like this to get attention,” Winkler said.
“It’s great for students to be vocal about what they believe is right.”
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