The Standing Rock Sioux are at the epicenter of the largest Native American gathering in modern times. They have become entrenched in a battle against the US government and oil corporations over the plans for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would not only threaten the water supply for the Sioux tribe, but for millions of Americans living downstream. As the protest movement has gained more support, people of all races and religions have offered their support and have shown up on the banks of the Missouri River in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
The peaceful protesters have endured pepper spray, rubber bullets, arrests, attack dogs, beatings, and brutally cold temperatures. People are tired of seeing the underdog lose in the United States, while the government and oil companies continue to get away with breaking the law and disregarding human life. The drama surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline has sparked a movement of people who decided that now is the time to take a stance and voice their opinions about the way Native Americans have been treated in this country, and protesters from around the world are showing up to offer support. For those who can’t show up to the banks of the Missouri River in person, you can show support by donating money. Taking it a step further, some people are also getting tattoos of the Standing Rock Thunderbird, the proceeds of which are being donated to the No Dakota Access Pipeline (NoDAPL) movement. Their goal was to raise $100,000 but at the time this article was written, they’ve already raised $114,586.
The Standing Rock Tattoo design, the thunderbird, was created by Stephanie Big Eagle, a descendant of the Great Sioux Nation. She explains that the thunderbird was chosen because it “represents Great Spirit, who watches over and guides all of the protectors at Standing Rock.” She goes on to describe the thunderbird as “highly respected not only for its life-giving powers, but also because it is known to attack the impure of heart with bolts of lightning from its eyes.”
The tattoo design features a circle in the heart of the thunderbird, which according to Stephanie, represents “all the nations who have come together as one to stand with Standing Rock.” The design was well thought out, as can be seen by all the intentional detail. For example, the tail of the thunderbird is a tipi instead of feathers, which represents “the woman (life-giver), the gathering place of tribal leaders, and the birthing place of future generations.” Furthermore, a river runs beneath the tail of the bird, and within the river lies the seven bands of the Great Sioux Nation. Taken together, the thunderbird, the tipi, and the river of life are said to embody the path of the NoDAPL movement, which is a peaceful gathering that urges unity, peace, transformation, and it highlights the power of the spiritual path over one of greed, abuse, and brutality.
This movement is about more than a water source and sacred burial sites which the pipeline intended to go through. It is about human rights violations, the corporate control of the United States, and the brutalization of a group of people who have long endured suffering at the hands of the American government. One man who got the tattoo said that he observed the bulldozing of ancient burial grounds at the Standing Rock protests. He went on to say that “They’re being treated terribly. It’s really important that we stop this pipeline, not only for water rights but for sacred Native rights...” The man described the tattoo as being much like the Standing Rock experience: “painful, permanent, beautiful and spiritual.”
Tattoo artists from all over the United States, and even parts of the world as remote as New Zealand are getting involved. There are participating parlors in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and surely many more. So if you are interested in lending your support to the NoDAPL cause, check around with your local parlors, there is a good chance there are artists participating in a location near you!