More than a hundred people showed up last week at Kaka‘ako Agora, a gathering place in the developing Honolulu neighborhood. They were there to show solidarity with activists in North Dakota who are fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The mood was festive as people listened to a local band play music. The wall behind them was used to project images from the protests in North Dakota.
Oahu resident Vallee Herrera says she came in support of her two adopted sons, both Apache Indian.
“I love my two sons and it’s important for them and for myself,” said Herrera. “It’s important, not only for Native Americans but for the human race.”
The gathering began with a prayer and blessing from Reno Villaren.
“It’s a chant and there’s a rattle, some sage, and I’ll use my voice,” said Villaren, who’s both Native Hawaiian and Native American. “I’m thinking maybe it’s time to do the soulful one.”
Villaren grew up going back and forth between O‘ahu and his father’s Lummi tribe in Washington state. And while he hasn’t traveled to the protests in North Dakota, he knows family members who are there. Some have even had clashes with the police.
“I’ve had family that’s been there, family that have been bitten by the dogs. I see, I feel, it’s hurtful,” said Villaren. “But you need to stand up for the things that are pure. And water is pure, water is life.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposes the pipeline because they say it would damage sacred cultural sites and drinking water.
These struggles sound familiar to Native Hawaiian activist Andre Perez, who sees a connection to Hawai‘i.
“They’re seeing the same issues that we’re struggling against,” Perez said. “Water rights, land struggles, jurisdiction and authority.”
Perez was one of dozens of people arrested for blocking TMT construction trucks from reaching the summit on Mauna Kea last year. He recently came back from a week-long trip to North Dakota. He said it was important for him to go, especially after seeing the outpouring of support from indigenous people at Mauna Kea.
“A lot of Native Americans came to Mauna Kea, a lot of Maoris from Aotearoa came to Mauna Kea. So part of our motivation was to reciprocate that solidarity and to give back,” said Perez. “We’re not oblivious to your struggle.”
With temperatures dropping in North Dakota, the camp of protesters is preparing to settle in for the winter. Perez is already planning his return trip to Standing Rock, bringing with him blankets and other supplies.