Silver City, NM- Last December, the Native American Student Organization traveled to Standing Rock, North Dakota to help those opposing the Delta Access Pipeline, that is currently back under construction. NASO Advisor and Director of Residence and Housing Paulo Veltri, Professor Scott Fritz, NASO President Benita Harry and special guests Orlando Cruz and Algun Croriz sat on the panel discussing the situation in Standing Rock.
Orlando kicked off the event with a native song and told a few jokes to warm up the crowd. Then he went into his narrative, talking about how he left his home in Albuquerque originally planned to only stay at the camp for a week. However, once he got there, Orlando ended up staying for two weeks, assisting the camps in chopping wood and doing odd jobs. Life at the camps was intense, with those staying in them facing temperatures as low as -40 degrees. Many jobs required volunteers to chop wood, build compost toilets and protecting the camp. There was also danger. Aside from the looming threat of raids and troublemakers, it wasn’t safe to be outside at night. People could be kidnapped in the darkness, while others could possibly fall through the snow and freeze to death.
He spoke of a man named BJ, or Bravo, who was described as a native “Warrior.” Bravo protected the camp and the people within, including one incident where he prevented one man that entered the camp and waved around an AR-15 assault rifle for provoking a violent situation. Orlando says that Bravo is currently facing class-4 felony charges that label him a terrorist. There is also an online campaign to defend him.
Paulo spoke next, giving some background on the trip up there. Paulo has a long history with the Native American Student Organization, serving as President of the group as a student and now as a faculty advisor. The group originally wanted to send up money to benefit those protesting DAPL, but soon made the decision to travel to North Dakota themselves. The club took their personal vehicles, and after a long journey, were offered by fellow Natives from Taos to stay with them in their Yurts, which are large tents that provide residents with a wood stove and warmer, more secure housing. Paulo spoke of a trip to the front lines of the protests, in which he was instructed to be careful, and not to engage or provoke the other side. A veteran of the United States military for eight years, Paulo was saddened when he saw military vehicles on the other side of the lines.
“We were prisoners in our own land,” Paulo said.
As an Anglo, Scott Fritz described the trip to Standing Rock as an excellent learning experience. He felt that he was experiencing past history, as well as the red power movement in action. Fritz volunteered to help dig compost toilets, which were necessary because porta-potties wouldn’t work in the freezing temperatures. He described the population as being 75% native and 25% Anglo. He also compared being on the front lines to the massacre of the Lakota people at Wounded Knee in 1890.
Benita Harry described how the community donated funds for them to travel to Standing Rock. The organization had chosen not to take part in the action, instead remaining inside the camps and helping with whatever needed to be done. She also mentioned that earlier today, the deadline for native protestors and that the military had begun efforts to clear them from the land. She also expressed concern for the future.
The most passionate speaker of the evening was Algun Croriz. He started off describing the mural, stating that one side featured a wild cat and a bird that were indigenous to Mexico, as well as a broken wall, symbolizing the proposed wall between the United States and Mexico. Algun explained that the wall was broken because the people wouldn’t allow it to go up. On the other side there was an Eagle, an important symbol of both Native and American Culture. This side also had people ripping the Delta Access Pipeline from the ground, preventing the pipeline from polluting their native waters. Lastly, at the center was a woman, holding a jug and cleansing the water, her hand dirty was the black oil that had once polluted native waters.
Algun spoke passionately about resistance and never giving up. He told stories of how his fellow protestors were still in Standing Rock and became choked up many times while discussing the hardships they were facing now. However, he expressed hope that things would get better, that people would stand up and oppose this action, explaining that this was what the government and corporations wanted, not the people. Many were moved by his words.
The event closed out with a brief Q&A session with members from the Grant County community, followed by Orlando performing another Native song. Refreshments were served afterward, with Algun making screenprint shirts and selling earrings to those in attendence.
The Native American Student Organization plans on becoming far more active on campus, with many more discussions and panels in the works.