Lessons from Standing Rock Is Everywhere

By: Dr. Adonia Lugo

This week, New Narratives brought a panel of powerful thinkers to campus. Standing Rock Is Everywhere created a space where activists brought students, faculty, staff, and community members into their experiences with organizing across Indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, and Black Lives Matter movements. These threads came together very publicly at the Standing Rock encampment in North Dakota this winter, when people from across the world converged to oppose the development of a new oil pipeline across Standing Rock Sioux tribal land.

Bringing the convergence to campus were Janaya Khan, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Canada; L. Frank Manriquez, Tongva-Ajachmem-Raramuri tribal scholar, activist, artist, and writer; and Jacqui Patterson, Director of NAACP’s Environmental & Climate Justice Program. For two days, we got to hear stories told with humor and charm that emphasized how much each of us can do now to protect the future of our planet and our species. The series was curated by Abigail Reyes (Director of Community Resilience Projects), Angela Mooney D’Arcy of Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, Jade Agua (Director of the Cross-Cultural Center), and Suma Peesapati (Visiting Assistant Professor, School of Law, and Board President, Communities for a Better Environment).

The learning started at the Cross-Cultural Center on Monday afternoon, when L. Frank, Angela, and Jacqui met with a group of collaborators developing community resilience projects at UCI. (Go here to read about the Community Resilience Co-lab and the Regional Resilience Project.) “We are extinct, and that’s a tough place to be,” L. Frank began. The dialogue continued around the importance of following protocol as a way to earn respect when engaging with any community. Being invited into collaboration is very different from assuming that what Indigenous communities have to offer can be taken, again, without their consent.

Angela explained that for her, as an Acjachemem woman, she has a responsibility to protect the land, air, water, animals, and people in her homeland. She reminded us that our campus sits on land with indigenous heritage. If we don’t know the history of this place, we miss moments when people took care of each other. L. Frank spoke of a treaty signed between the Acjachemem and a Hawaiian sovereignty movement, right here at UCI.

On Tuesday, a much bigger group gathered in the Student Center for the formal panel. L. Frank quieted the room with a lilting song. Then, in opening remarks, Angela told the story of a meeting between California Indigenous leaders and Black Lives Matter organizers as they explored “how you build cross-movement solidarity…in a real way, not in a rote, tokenizing way, because it’s hard, and colonization has hit us all hard and deep, and in ways that cause us sometimes to be at each other’s throats.” Working across movements might seem to be an obvious way to build strength, but the reality is much messier. Angela described how the Indigenous leaders tried to convey what it’s like to be called upon to “save the Indians” when they had been fighting to survive all their lives. And they were heard, Angela reported, because that’s when Janaya, who was at that meeting, said, “I get it. Standing Rock is everywhere.”

After Angela’s opening, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Parham, the founder of New Narratives, welcomed this conversation as part of UCI’s work to build human infrastructure for change. Co-moderators Abby and Suma set the stage, with Suma informing the audience that, “environmental justice means the disproportionate environmental burden on low-income communities and communities of color. There is a very large and growing body of literature that shows that, even more than income, race is the stronger determinant of exposure to environmental harm.”


Then each panelist spoke about their respective projects and experiences within and alongside communities. Bringing in Canadian context, Janaya explained how black organizing work unfolded alongside fights for Indigenous sovereignty there. The speakers articulated that cooperation across communities is so crucial because, as Janaya put it, “we’re in this moment right now where what we do in this generation is going to impact the globe forever.” Angela highlighted how working together is a choice with a simple question: “You have one glass of water. Do you share it or do you keep it for yourself?”

After a break, Jacqui and L. Frank returned for a Q&A session. The main message was to take action, in whatever way makes sense for you. L. Frank said that there would be a time when we did not need each other as much, but this is not a time to stand aside. Jacqui shared examples of successful divestment campaigns. Prompted by a student’s reflection that sending inefficient vehicles away to be used elsewhere doesn’t solve the problem of emissions in a bigger way, co-moderators Abby and Suma spoke to the urgency of social equity issues around carbon offsets, given the UC system’s commitment to carbon neutrality. (Read the 2016 update to UCI’s Climate Action Plan here.)

Jacqui Patterson, Angela Mooney D’Arcy, and L. Frank Manriquez were guests on Calvin Grace’s show, Black Talk Radio

Now that the face-to-face engagement is over, we begin the work of absorbing the advice shared this week into our community resilience work. The Community Resilience Co-lab and Regional Resilience Project will craft a set of community resilience principles to guide our activities. If you want to get involved, connect with us here.

Check out more photos from this event here.