By Nicole Wong
Dozens of UCI students and faculty attended a “Say No to Trump, Say Yes to Standing Rock” rally at the UCI flagpoles last Tuesday, Nov. 22. The rally was hosted by the UC Irvine American Indian Resource Program, along with the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) Local 2226 and the United Auto Workers Union. UC-AFT Local 2226 represents UCI librarians and lecturers. United Auto Workers represents academic employees.
Throughout the one-hour event, student and faculty members gathered to discuss the election of Donald Trump and show solidarity with Native American protesters at Standing Rock, who oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North and South Dakota. UCI School of Humanities Dean Georges Van Den Abbeele opened the rally calling it a “protest on behalf of the Earth.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline protests gained national recognition in spring, as #NoDAPL was shared and spread on social media. The pipeline was originally set to run near Bismarck, North Dakota, but was rerouted because of its proximity to residential areas. The new plan installs the pipeline from western North Dakota and southern Illinois, and it will pass under the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. A spill in the Missouri River would affect the residents of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation who derive their water supply from the river. The plan was approved to move forward without an environmental review by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Representatives from the American Indian Student Association (AISA) and UCI humanities professors called on students and the Irvine community to take action and exercise their right to free speech.
Humanities Core lecturer Ben Garceau, who traveled to Standing Rock himself, talked about his experiences there. Garceau witnessed security guards using attack dogs and pepper spray against protesters. He also argued against the unfairness of the entire situation.
“It’s never middle-class or rich communities that pipelines are going through,” said Garceau.
ASUCI Social Sciences Representative Selma Hassane was also in attendance.
“On behalf of ASUCI and the ASUCI Senate, we support the #NoDAPL protest and what’s happening at Standing Rock,” said Hassane. “This isn’t just about climate change. This is about genocide.”
Chelsea Baloo, a member of AISA, spoke on the Dakota Access Pipeline issue and the recent attention it has been getting.
“We wanted to bring attention to an issue that’s been happening, and I don’t think enough students at UC Irvine realize that they have indigenous students on this campus, because we are, unfortunate as it is, a small population in higher education in general,” said Baloo. “I think it’s really important because this is something that we have been dealing with as people for the last 500 years … Now we’re finally getting national recognition, people are starting to hear our story more and wanting to come out and help any which way they can.”
Baloo also spoke on what Native Americans can do now that the results of the 2016 presidential election are in.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we know how to do, which is existing and resisting. It’s what our ancestors were doing and that’s what we’re going to continue doing.”
Some speakers also commented on their reactions to Trump’s recent election. One speaker said that he wasn’t surprised when Trump won, but that the election and current events at Standing Rock were a wake up call. He argued that the Standing Rock issue, and the national divide over Trump’s election, will only be solved if Americans fight together.
“If Trump is going to be stopped, it’s only if we are as brave as those Native American protesters,” he said. “The time to be on the sidelines is over.”
“We are going to do everything we can to make [Trump] feel unwelcome,” said Andrew Tonkovich, humanities lecturer and president of UC-AFT Local 2226, who also thanked the crowd for coming.
“We’re so proud to be here with the right people at the right moment,” he said.