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Why This Mom Gave Birth at Standing Rock

Photograph by Facebook

You may have seen people on social media talking about #NoDAPL over the last several months, but didn’t know much about it other than what little you could read in the news until the last few weeks. Thanks to documentary filmmaker Shannon Kring, we’re learning more about some of the women who risked everything to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline from being routed through ancient burial grounds and prayer sites on Sioux tribal land, threatening their access to a clean water source.

Kring followed a group of indigenous moms at Standing Rock as they peacefully protested the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The women’s stories, which are part of Kring’s documentary “End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,” are incredible.

A woman named Sky Bird Black Owl was the first to give birth on the site of the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota.

Part of the Sioux tribe known as the Lakota people, Sky Bird Black Owl named her daughter Mni Waconi, which means “water is life.” The baby girl, born Oct. 12, is the youngest of six children—all born at home with the help of a midwife. Sky Bird Black Owl birthed Mni Waconi on her own in her tipi. Her sisters—one an indigenous midwife and the other, an indigenous doula—were nearby for the birth, and assisted with her prenatal care. She buried the placenta at the camp, in Lakota tradition.

“Having babies is my act of resistance,” Sky Bird Black Owl told Indian Country Today. “Our reproductive rights as Native women have been taken away from us in so many ways. At one time, we were forcibly sterilized; assimilation has come down really hard on us.”

The 35-year-old Oregonian stay-at-home-mom told Kring in a clip from the documentary, "I wouldn’t have been able to be here without the support of the women who came with me and who came and joined me. When I gave birth to her, I could feel them all standing behind me."

That’s why I came, that’s why I’m here. Because there’s a need to hold space for women.

She said she had some fears about having her at the camp, "in a place of conflict," but that ultimately, she felt her baby wanted to be born there. And although she thought she was having a boy, the significance of giving birth to a daughter while trying to protect water rights was not something she took lightly.

"They talked about our people saying that it would be our children that stood up first, and then it would be our women, and then finally our men would stand up. I firmly think that our men need our women to stand up and be strong,” Black Owl says in a clip from the documentary.

"And they need to be reminded of the world that we live in now and their responsibility to make it safe for us. They need to make it safe for our daughter and for their mothers and for their sisters, and their aunties; for the women they don’t know, the women they’ve never met," she says in the clip. "And so that’s why I came, that’s why I’m here. Because there’s a need to hold space for women.”

On Dec. 4, the federal government said it would not allow the pipeline to be drilled under the Missouri River upstream from the reservation by denying an easement needed to finish the pipeline. You can learn more about the timeline of what's happened at Standing Rock with this brief explainer from the New York Times.

President-elect Donald Trump has openly said he supports finishing the project, and Energy Transfer Partners (the company building the pipeline) has denounced the government action against the pipeline and said it will continue on. And although some protesters are heading home to tend to family and other obligations, many are still staying despite an early December blizzard and frigid winter ahead. Some told the New York Times that they were glad the government stepped in, but are afraid to leave because the company building the pipeline could continue in defiance of the order to not finish the pipeline on the tribe’s sacred land or under their water source. Energy Transfer Partners will continue their fight to build the pipeline in court for now.

You can find out more about Kring's documentary on the filmmaker's IndieGoGo campaign page and watch the exclusive interview with Sky Bird Black Owl on Vimeo.

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