Pierce College presents Standing Rock

a play taking a closure look into this current event

June 15, 2017

As protests go, the one that took place at Standing Rock, North Dakota, was perhaps the longest in U.S. history. It lasted from July 27, 2016 until February 23, 2017, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), North Dakota law enforcement, and the National Guard came to enforce an eviction order issued by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

From the first meeting with Dakota Access the Lakota and other local tribes raised questions and stated their objections, fully expecting to be given due process, allowing their questions to be answered before construction began.

Dakota Access and Energy Partners had a mission, and driving that mission was a promise to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. The answer to that promise lay in the Brakken oil fields that lay partially in North Dakota.

Late spring of 2016 the talks hit a dead end. The Lakota tribal leaders filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking a temporary injunction against the pipeline. Battle lines were drawn at Standing Rock between the Lakota and DAPL.

The protest struck a cord with Patrick Daugherty, the speech and drama professor here at the college. He said, “I felt strongly that it is a story that needs to be told.”

Sometime around the middle of February he met with two other professors who also shared the same vision.

The reasons Marion Morford, an adjunct professor for arts and humanities, partnered with Daugherty are lengthy. But then so are his ties to North Dakota. Morford had worked with the Native American people and become familiar and their values and customs.

Morford watched the events unfold and saw that there was more to the story than just a bunch of tribal people unhappy about an oil pipeline. He said, “One thing that is important to note is that Native people are accepting of change. It is part of life. So the fact that there are so many representatives from all of these tribes, the Navajo, the Hopi, the Crow, from all over, standing up, says a lot. They aren’t saying much about defending their rights. They look at it that they are defending the earth. These native people were thinking ahead about the future, their legacy and how their children and grandchildren will look back at their stewardship of the land, and the protectors of the water.”

As the protest was drawing to a close, Morford still had questions. With a confused look on his face he asked, “The (North Dakota) governor was pointing out that the water protectors was leaving this mess of pollution…as they were being arrested and hounded out. I felt that it was an unfair portrayal of the people and their options. I find it interesting that this whole issue is…this is tribal land and the pipeline goes under or through several water tables, affects the lake and the river. There is a long history of leaks and pipeline explosions that happen in North Dakota that never get reported in the news, about 200 in the last year alone. When you think about a pipeline leaking or breaking under a river how do you fix it?”

 An English professor, Heather Frankland also wanted a part in the creation of the play. During the winter quarter she gave her creative class an assignment to write a small one-act play. These plays would be tied together to tell the story of Standing Rock from the protectors’ point of view.

For Frankland, her motive was simply to teach the students the influence they CAN have. She said, “This play will empower the students as they work to bring a story to life. It is important the people understand that writing gives people a voice, to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Aiyana Parham, a running start student, was one of those students who was in Frankland’s class. She said, “It was a peaceful protest. The native people who actually lived there weren’t the ones who were starting the fights; it was the people who were coming in to support. I think they just didn’t understand. I think that was a big issue, how everything got labeled. Even the native people kept trying to say they aren’t with us. That was the most frustrating thing to me. I didn’t know that much about it until I was given the assignment for the script in my creative writing class. I barely heard anything about it.”

When the rehearsals were starting Parham came with the intent to just watch. She said, “But then I wanted to be a part of it, to portray what others created, to share the message through my performance, the message that what we were doing was wrong. We signed a treaty, then took the land back. That’s not right. When I say “them,” I mean the Lakota and when I say “we,” I mean the people who are abusing their power. I am not one of them, so I feel it is my responsibility to speak for them, too.”

The play is deeply personal for Nate Dicarlo, a digital design student here. He is an army veteran and watched with great interest as military veterans began showing up at Standing Rock. Their motivation resonated with him. He said, “I’m doing Standing Rock for one, experience, and for two, I support the cause of the Standing Rock protest. I don’t believe, as a student and as a military vet, that oil is going to make this country better. “

His voice became a little more forceful as he continued, “On top of that, the police presence up there is too militarized. I disagree with that. It should have been handled better. The way they did it was idiotic. In the military, we do not respond like that at all. We do not respond with attack dogs. We do not attack people unprovoked. What they did, they did unprovoked. There were some instances where protestors who should not have been there were throwing things, but even THEN? you do not attack them.”

The play incorporates stories told through video clips taken from people who were there with people on stage acting out the events that took place. A legend was told of a black snake that will bring great harm to the people. It became a key part of the Lakota protest and will be making a cameo appearance on stage.

The cast all have echoed the same line, " My heart goes out to the Lakota people. We violated the treaty. We violated their land and their sacred vows. “

The protest at Standing Rock was an event that will have lasting ripples. For three nights, the Lakota people will be given a voice. That is all they ever wanted, was to be heard.

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