I am 13 years old, and I've spent my whole life drinking and fishing from the Missouri River in North Dakota. After school, when I'm not babysitting for my auntie, I go to the One Mile Creek right below my grandma's house to fish for creek minnows. In the summer, I — like my mother and grandmother before me — go to the river to swim with friends.
As members of the Standing Rock Tribe, my family has lived here for generations. Today our lives on the reservation are still defined by the river.
But now an oil company wants to build a pipeline that will cross the river a mile away from our reservation, carrying 570,000 barrels of crude oil across each day. We're terrified that it could leak into our water, but the company doesn't seem to care.
Yet again, the oil industry is putting its profits over the health and safety of people, but we, the youth of the Standing Rock Tribe, refuse to let them risk our water without a fight. And so far over 130,000 people have signed our petition asking the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In spite of safety assurances from the Energy Transfer company, anyone who reads the news knows that pipelines leak and break — a lot. In May, a Shell oil flow line spilled 90,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In April, South Dakota saw its worst spill ever when a pipeline spewed out almost 17,000 gallons of crude oil. Pipelines leak all the time here in the Dakotas: From 2012 to 2013, there were 300 oil pipeline breaks in North Dakota alone. Oil spills have become routine for us, yet companies are facing very little regulation or sanctions for the damage they cause.
It's not a matter of if this newest pipeline will leak, but when.
Our people have lost enough. I'm fighting for my great-grandparents who were forced to abandon their house in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, when the Army Corps of Engineers built a dam that flooded their lands. They left behind burial sites, sacred grounds and their home.
In Dakota/Lakota, we say "Mni Wiconi," which means water is life. Native American people know that water is the first medicine for all human beings living on this Earth. Water also makes up an important part of our cultural traditions. Some families that reside by water that runs into the river even refer to themselves by their creeks. They are from the Big Lake Family, the Four Mile Family and the Porcupine Creek Family, all tributaries of the Missouri River. I can't imagine how we will complete our yearly Sun Dance if the Missouri River has been poisoned.
The youth of Standing Rock refuse to stand by while we lose our water to corporate greed — and we're not alone. A long list of celebrities have endorsed our campaign: Artists and activists like Leonardo DiCaprio, Shailene Woodley, Bill McKibben, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Cameron Russell and Nelson Mandela's grandson Ndaba Mandela.
But even more importantly, we have the support of our elders and the whole Standing Rock community. My grandmother is the person who convinced me to start this petition; my sister encouraged me when I had doubt; my teacher asks me every day how the petition is going. And of course my mother is by my side with each new step we take on the campaign.
Our campaign is one piece of a massive movement to stop the pipeline. Across the reservation, young people have gotten creative to make their voices heard, from protests on horseback to spirit camps. Bobbi Jean Three Legs, a young mom and activist, organized a 500-mile relay race to bring attention to the proposed project. Zaysha Grinnell, 15, started her own petition against the Dakota access pipeline and lead a march demanding that her tribal council rescind support for seven oil pipelines which cross or would cross the Missouri River.
Across the reservation, young people are acting as defenders of Mother Earth and saying no to Big Oil. We know that we can live without electricity, we can live without oil, but we can't live without water. No one can.
We demand "rezpect" for our water, our land and our voices. Join us and together we can stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.