Eryn Wise, 26, is young two-spirit (LGBTQ) Native American leader who's been on the front lines of the Dakota Access pipeline protests since last year. She is Jicarilla Apache and Laguna Pueblo, an organizer for Honor the Earth, and the media coordinator for the International Indigenous Youth Council and Sacred Stone Camp. She grew up in Dulce, New Mexico.
Through months of demonstrations at the site of the pipeline in North Dakota, Wise watched the Obama administration say they were monitoring events but not intervene. Then finally, in December, the federal agency responsible for issuing the final permit for the pipeline to be completed said they would not allow construction to continue on its intended route. The thousands of Native American protesters who had gathered at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation were relieved–but just over a month later, the Trump administration made it a priority to push the pipeline through. Construction is expected to be completed as early as next week.
In response, Wise has been helping to coordinate a Native Nations March on the White House that will take place this Friday in protest of the Dakota Access pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline, and what Native American activists say is already shaping up to be a disregard for Indigenous rights under this Trump's administration.
She spoke to Fusion today after attending a Greenpeace training camp in Florida.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
What for you is the connection between environmental activism and being a feminist?
Well I definitely think the Earth is female. Water is female. This Earth is a life giver and I am a life giver. As a feminist, it is really deeply important that we realize that our existence is so sincerely rooted in the existence of this Earth that nourishes us. I think a lot of people forget that without these resources, without these delicate, fragile, beautiful ecosystems, we wouldn't exist. I think it’s much the same for feminism. If it weren’t for all these little cogs in the wheel, our movement wouldn't exist.
This work that I do is truly done to ensure that there’s not only equality for humans but equality for life. I don't mean it to just be equality for the sexes. That's my feminism side, but also my environmental side is for equality for those that cannot speak for themselves. The ones in the sky and the ones in Earth, and the ones walking beside us that we don't see, and all the plants and everything that tries so hard to love us in the best way that it knows how. The fight is just to protect that like the momma protects the babies. The trees, the water, the animals, the Earth. I feel very protective of that, because it's nourished me so much. And I feel it's my job now to give and nourish back.
As an Indigenous leader, how did you feel about the Obama administration's response to the protests over the pipeline?
President Obama made a platform for indigenous folks. He went to the reservations…and he was so loved and trusted and to have that trust undermined, especially with the situation with Dakota Access, was just devastating. Especially for people like myself who campaigned for him, who fought for him, who defended him.
These kids who met President Obama in 2013, they were so proud because the president came to them. They live in one of the poorest nations in the country and they were so stoked that somebody sees them, and that somebody cares, and that it's not just anybody, it's the President of the United States. So every single time that we reached out to him and he ignored us, it felt like a slap in the face. Every single time he told us he was watching, but he wasn't acting—it felt like a slap in the face. It just kept coming.
The kids who met him would tell me, 'He told us he loved us, and we remember him saying, 'I love these kids. I only met them briefly but I love them.' And they believed him with their whole hearts. And then they would go out to the front lines [of protests] and they would get shot and they would come back covered in mace. And I would be sitting there washing the mace out of their hair in a hotel room…and some of these kids would say, 'He said he loved us. Why is he letting this happen?'
So what does it mean to you to march to the White House and to be a leader in your community right now?
My involvement is that I want there to be someone who says, 'I love you,' and is accountable to them and that they can look to and remember, 'This person actually did show up for me. This person actually does love me.' I’m not the President of the United States but I am a big sister and I am an aunty and I am a daughter and a friend.
I want these other young women to see me and think, 'If this woman who grew up in a not even 700 square foot house from HUD government housing with her grandma and three other kids, with no space and poor as hell, can openly talk in front of the White House about a misogynistic, sexist pervert, this purveyor of rape culture'–maybe they can too. [I want them to hear me] say in front of the White House, 'I have been raped and watching that pipeline be forced into my mother feels similar to when something I didn't want be forced into me.'