According to Lakota prophecy, a “black snake” will someday come to destroy Mother Earth.
And, when the time comes, it will be women who emerge as the ultimate guardians and protectors of life.
These predictions were long left open for interpretation. But today, the notion at Standing Rock is that the black snake resembles the 1,172 mile-long Dakota Access oil pipeline.
For months, thousands of people have camped out on the North Dakota prairie to protest against the £3 billion pipeline, set to transport up to 570,000 barrels a day of fracked Bakken crude oil through a tunnel under the tribe’s main water source.
And, as the prophecy predicted, women are leading the fight to stop its construction. It was indigenous women who were first to take on the bulldozers in an attempt to protect lands and water deemed sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. They rushed to lead the protests, even as the demonstrations were rocked by clashes with police. Their contributions aren't just on the front lines — they have also provided critical behind-the-scenes support for the protesters, working as paramedics, cooks, and media liaisons.
Opponents of the pipeline scored a victory earlier this month, when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not allow construction to continue beneath Lake Oahe as planned. But they say the fight is not yet over.
And these female water protectors, many of whom are still camped out in North Dakota, remain central to the struggle to protect the Missouri River from a potential oil spill.
As the movement continues to gain momentum on ancestral ground of the Great Sioux Nation, a coalition of female warriors are standing strong. They are mothers who fought and won to block the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015, and they are daughters whose fathers watched treaty territory diminish by seizures led by the federal government. Others are grandchildren who have inherited historical traumas linked to forced removal, assimilation, and genocide.
For these women of Standing Rock, it is their calling, their responsibility. They are on the front lines, shaping the indigenous narrative, and standing up for what has captured the attention of the world. Ahead, these female water protectors crucial to the fight share their stories.