Words by Tahesha Knapp-Christensen. Photos by Richard Shimizu.
The Native American community of Long Beach gathered to kick off the first annual Native American Heritage Month Celebration at city hall on November 1st. Drummers and dancers in full regalia filled the chamber of city hall with prayers, initially led by Cindi Alvitre, Tongva/Gabrieleno tribal member and professor at CSULB of American Indian Studies. Indigenous rights organizers also attended the city council meeting to speak on the Dakota Access Pipeline during the public comments portion.
Local resident George Funmaker of the Hunkpapa Lakota tribe spoke about the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline issue at Standing Rock from a traditional Lakota perspective, reminding us how “Water is Life” and of the connectivity to Mother Earth and each other as human beings. He connected DAPL with the environmental concern on the devastating effects of the oil industry, emphasizing that Long Beach generates 20 percent of its revenue from fracking and the oil industry and that the issues at Standing Rock need to be considered by the Long Beach City Council to move towards a greener and more sustainable future.
The co-founders of local autonomous organization Protectors of Earth Mother Sandra Acosta (Xicana/Mescalero Apache) and Noe Ramirez (Otomi Nahua) and I, urged the City Council to adopt an official resolution in support of Standing Rock. All of us, including locals who have been to Standing Rock, stood behind a giant red banner that said “NO DAPL” and “Water is Life.
Acosta was the first to speak among the activists and explained to the council that the pipeline, if finished, will transport crude oil through sacred lands of the Lakota people at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. She explained that the pipeline will eventually break (as we have already seen in other places) and that crude oil will poison the water, and the people. Ramirez discussed the escalation in violence by militarized police toward water protectors who are praying and protecting the land and water peacefully.
As a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, I also found it important to speak on the Long Beach Turkey Trot, a 5k or 10k Thanksgiving day annual run where some runners had dressed up as Turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indians. I told the council how the mocking of our people relates to what’s happening at Standing Rock. “Our people are under attack by armed guards and the media and government is silent about this. In this context, it is really important to be seen as real human beings right now and not as fictional characters or grotesque stereotypes,” I told the council. “We need our voices to be heard and we need to be seen as a living culture and not something in the past.”
Even though council members could not speak publicly on Standing Rock or whether or not they will support, a meeting will take place with Protectors of Earth Mother, Councilmember Jeannine Pearce of District 2, and Councilmember Daryl Supernaw of District 4 to discuss introducing a resolution in two weeks. Now that Long Beach plans to move forward with drafting a resolution to support Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline, we can expect the council chamber to be filled in two weeks with water protectors and supporters to remind the community that “Water is Life.”
Supernaw, who is a member of the Osage tribe, introduced the resolution to declare the month of November as Native American Heritage Month and the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Day. Los Angeles City Hall has had a Native American day of celebration for eight years in honor of this very special month, which nationally is recognized to celebrate Native American heritage.
Supernaw cited that Long Beach has a population of 16,000 documented Native American residents. It makes you wonder what took so long? Councilmember Pearce remarked that “there is a lot of work to do with this community in particular,” signifying that our local and national issues have been ignored by the city for far too long.
Tahesha Knapp-Christensen is member of the Omaha Tribal Nation of Nebraska and a Native American cultural and environmental activist in Long Beach. Her family has been in Long Beach for four generations.