BEMIDJI -- Bemidji-area American Indian leaders and students are set to march this Friday to draw attention to challenges facing Indigenous people worldwide.
After a short prayer and ceremony at the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in downtown Bemidji, the first-ever Indigenous Peoples Movement March is scheduled to head to the American Indian Resource Center at BSU, where university scholars will detail some of those Indigenous issues and how students in attendance can help address them.
“The main purpose is to educate people on the issues that are in not only the United States...but from all over,” said Sage Davis, an admissions counselor at the university who’s coordinating the Bemidji march. “From Canada, from Mexico, the people in New Zealand and the Australians. They all have Indigenous peoples there that have undergone colonization and the effects of colonization are still here.
“And people sometimes think that, ‘oh well that happened a long time ago it doesn't really matter anymore.’ But in reality it still matters. Every system that you can think of is disadvantaging Indigenous peoples. And now it's coming about to be that Indigenous peoples are dying. It's a matter of life and death, and these are human rights issues.”
Those challenges include the disproportionate number of American Indian women whose disappearances and murders go unsolved; mounting legal challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act, which aims to place American Indian adoptees with American Indian families; caricatures of American Indians used as sports mascots and Halloween costumes; and an expanding network of oil pipelines crisscrossing the U.S., many of which are decried as threats to tribal sovereignty and the environment.
High school students from Bemidji, Cass Lake-Bena, Bagley and other districts are scheduled to attend and speak about why they chose to do so, too, Davis said.
Friday’s planned march is part of a national effort organized by the Indigenous Peoples Movement, a collective that bills itself as a grassroots initiative to unite all Indigenous voices and bring positive change. Movement organizers plan to march Friday morning from the Building of Interior Affairs in Washington, D.C., to Henry Bacon Park, near the Lincoln Memorial.
“Currently, many indigenous people are victims of voter suppression, divided families by walls and borders, an environmental holocaust, sex and human trafficking, and police/military brutality with little or no resources and awareness of this injustice,” the movement’s website reads. “We must unite and help!!”
The march in Washington is estimated to draw a crowd of 10,000 to the nation's capital during a weekend when other large-scale marches are taking place. The national March for Life, a longstanding anti-abortion rally, also takes place that Friday, followed by the Women's March on Saturday. Locally, both the March for Life and the Women’s March in Bemidji are scheduled for Saturday.
Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People's Law Project, said the impetus of the Indigenous Peoples March grew from the Dakota Access Pipeline protest near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota in 2016-17. Solidarity has been building despite the government supporting that oil pipeline and others, such as the Enbridge Line 3 running from Alberta through northern Minnesota and into Wisconsin, he said.
"We don't want these tar sands going through our waters," said Tara Houska, director of Honor the Earth and an organizer of the national Indigenous Peoples March and a member of the Women's March steering committee who helped organize a Line 3 protest near Bemidji in the fall. "That's the message I'm carrying to D.C."
Taking part in the national march are tribal nations and organizations from across the U.S., with indigenous people from Canada, Australia and Guatemala expected to attend.
The march in Bemidji is the only “solidarity march” planned in the Midwest, according to the official website for the demonstration.
The presentations at the AIRC in Bemidji on Friday will be followed by a round dance at 2 p.m.
If you go:
What: Indigenous Peoples Movement March
When: Short prayer and ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 18; march begins at 10 a.m.
Where: Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues to American Indian Resource Center at BSU