Linfield students travel to Standing Rock to inspire and support

Elizabeth Stoeger, Staff Writer

What began as a conversation between friends about the injustices of the situation in Standing Rock, ND, has materialized into what will be a whirlwind four-day trip for 11 Linfield students.

The 1, 200 mile Dakota Access Pipeline is scheduled to be built in underneath the Missouri River, the chief source of water for the Standing Rock Sioux. It is also a sacred burial ground for the Sioux.

Those protesting the pipeline have been, among other things, beaten, maced, shot with rubber bullets, and arrested by the National Guard and police sent in by North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple.

In an article for YES! Magazine, Kelly Hayes, an indigenous woman, called it a resurgence of the struggle against colonial violence.

Hayes wrote, “Yes, everyone should be talking about climate change, but you should also be talking about the fact that Native communities deserve to survive, because our lives are worth defending in their own right — not simply because ‘this affects us all.’”

It is in this spirit that Linfield students are traveling approximately 40 hours round-trip by car.

The group discussed flying over but it seemed hypocritical because of the large amount of oil planes use, oil probably produced by one of the companies they are protesting. They decided to drive and plan to do carbon offsets for the gas money.

Alaire Hughey, ’17, one of the participants, said, “Our goal is to stand with people who need to be stood with. Who are asking for people to be there, to help, because we were sort of asking ourselves, ‘If this isn’t it, what is it that makes us do this?’ This is this unholy merging of environmental degradation and huge human rights injustices. We’re hoping to just be on the right side of history.”

In addition to the environmental and human rights aspect of the trip, several students also expressed a frustration that Linfield seems to be lacking an activist spirit, something they hope to spark.

One of the organizers, Sarah Stark, ’17, said, “We always talk about how apathetic our campus seems to be and how it seems to be more so than other schools. No one here engages in the political system on a level higher than posting online . . . We don’t want to have that be the only action that students are taking.”

As much as this is an opportunity to support a group and call attention to issues of climate change and oil, these students have a Linfield specific goal in mind. This is, perhaps even more so, a chance to show seemingly lackadaisical Linfield students what being fully engaged can mean.

The whole process, from its inception to the return trip, will be documented by Kyle Huizinga, ’18, and shown at a PLACE event in the future.

“We really want to make sure that this isn’t an experience that only we have. We’re really intentionally trying to make sure that our peers and other students are involved in it,” Stark said.

Peri Muellner, ‘18, said, “I know that this is not my fight, so I’m hoping to just do everything I can to support those who are trying to protect their own land . . . I know that just a small group of students isn’t going to make a big difference, but I’m hoping that our trip inspires other small student groups and all together we really could make a difference.”

Though they do not know exactly what to expect, students are planning to do largely physical labor at Standing Rock. Things like chopping wood, making food, and helping to coordinate some of the logistical elements of the protest will help those on the frontlines.

While the ultimate goal is to halt construction of the pipeline, another goal is “to get as many Linfield students to experience what activism looks like from a student’s perspective. Here we are dropping in on the weekend then leaving immediately, that’s a lot of privilege.”

“We’re bringing a lot of different baggage . . . There’s been many conversations about how appropriate it is to do that, but we think that the amount of impact we’ll have hopefully amongst our student body will be great enough that it will be worth it,” said Stark.

Quinn Riesenman, ’17, who is also going on the trip, agreed that it was a matter of “showing younger Linfield students that if there’s a problem you want to address, you have to do it yourselves.”

“I think there’s something about going and not just trusting these different sources of information on the internet for what’s going on but having a full experience there and it’s not just a matter of taking sides on a viewpoint that’s being posted online, it’s a matter of what are these people saying, how are they acting, and what’s actually going on in front of me,” Riesenman said.

For Bailey Morales, ’17, “It has less to do with the environment and more to do with human rights . . . I’m going there to try and understand what exactly is happening to the people who are being marginalized.”

Morales wants to understand “how the government and business interests use their power, in a way, to exert what they want in the world at large and within our own society.”

Muellner, sees this as a way to fully utilize everything she has learned at Linfield in a concrete way. “I’ve learned a lot about how protesting can make a real difference, when people just band together and peacefully show their support for a cause. I think it’s time I apply what I’ve been learning, because sitting in a classroom hearing about the horrible things happening in the world without being able to do anything about them isn’t going to cut it for me anymore,”

Harnessing the ideas and lessons learned at Linfield is another benefit of the trip, “We spent the last three and a half years studying what is wrong with the world and there’s a lot, and studying issues that seem pretty insurmountable and overwhelming. Part of especially sociology and anthropology is that you learn [that] you problematize everything, especially the solutions.”

“We feel pretty powerless and so going [to Standing Rock], though obviously we’re not going to stop the pipeline by being 11 more white bodies, but doing something tangible feels really rewarding and refreshing after only being able to post something,” Hughey said.

Going to Standing Rock also poses the potential risk of being arrested. Several high-profile journalists and actors have been arrested while trying to document or protest the pipeline. Journalists Amy Goodman and Deia Schlosberg as well as actress Shailene Woodley were among those detained.

“You can’t predict anything and it’s something that we have all had to have a serious conversation about, but we are going in a safe way as students that are representing our college and none of us have the intention of being arrested and all of us will try to stay away and I don’t think it will be that difficult,” said Hughey.

To spread awareness, they created a Facebook Page, Linfield for Standing Rock, which has almost 500 likes, and sent out a campus wide email with more information on how to be involved and support them at home.

Students are also encouraged to donate money for firewood, and donation bins for winter coats and lighters can be found in the Multicultural Center. Signing petitions and emailing ASLC senators are all ways to show institutional support.

The group does not know what the result will be but simply by going, they show a compassion and strength of conviction that has recently been hidden at Linfield.

“No matter what happens here, at last we’re trying which is more than a lot of students feel they’re able to do,” said Hughey.

Muellner echoed her sentiments, “you can come up with a million reasons not to do something, but you just have to make the conscious decision that this is the most important thing to be doing right now. Everything else will fall into place.”