On Thursday, as more than 100 people protesting the construction of a pipeline were arrested in North Dakota, people gathered in the Multicultural Community Center on campus to raise awareness of the struggle in North Dakota and share in what Native American performer Supaman called “the good medicine of laughter and hip hop and prayer.”
The event was put together by the Native American Student Development office, or NASD, and the Native American Recruitment and Retention Center, or NARRC, along with Students with Standing Rock at Berkeley, or SSRB. More than 100 people watched Christian Parrish Takes the Gun, who goes by the stage name Supaman, Jackie Keliiaa and Manny Lieras while NARRC raised funds to send to protesters in North Dakota as they prepare for winter.
“I’m hoping that it’ll bring more awareness and that we’ll get more support,” said Jo-Joe Lee, executive director of NARRC. “Increased support will help attain the ultimate goal: stopping the pipeline.”
Lieras, who has been singing for over 20 years, took the stage first in front of a projection of a drawing with the words “Water is sacred” and “No pipelines!”
He demonstrated what he considers the healing power of water and of music and asked the audience to find their pulses and to notice the rhythm of it as he played a drum. Participants said they noticed something different about their pulses when he asked them of the experience. He explained how, because the body is made up of water and water absorbs sound, water and music can heal the human body.
“The great thing about these camps is that there’s no money exchange … and nobody is left without,” Lieras said of his experience at Standing Rock before performing an original song in the Lakota language, which expressed his gratefulness to “the creators of all life” for the element of water.
Next on stage was Jackie Keliiaa, a UC Berkeley alumna who cracked jokes about her identity as a Native American and about daily life.
“So what are you?” she asked herself. “Sugar and spice and everything nice.”
Supaman took to the stage to much applause in his contemporary take on men’s “fancy dance” garb, a colorful outfit with intricate beading done by his wife and eagle feathers on his back. His performance involved audience participation, using call-and-response phrases to engage the audience at the beginning, producing a collaborative song on stage with five audience volunteers and using objects that the audience held in the air as inspiration for a freestyle song.
“I pray to have a platform to pray goodness to all people,” Supaman said.
Supaman is from the Crow Nation, also known as the Apsaalooke Nation, in Montana. He has been working as an artist for the past 15 years, infusing Native culture with hip-hop culture. Supaman said the fight at Standing Rock is close to home — he had visited earlier that week.
“The vibe was awesome,” Supaman said. “It’s ceremonial, it’s prayerful and it’s joyful. … Everyone was still standing rock solid strong.”
Phenocia Bauerle, director of the NASD office, is Supaman’s cousin and said he was scheduled to perform at the Schools Not Prisons Freedom Fest in Stockton the next day, and so she asked Supaman to visit UC Berkeley as well to raise awareness. The NASD office intends to support Native American students during their time at UC Berkeley, using a holistic approach.
Bauerle organized the event with Emma Yip, a campus senior majoring in society and environment who began SSRB.
“The point of (SSRB) is to synthesize and create a symbiosis to bring the groups on campus together,” Yip said. “In the last week it has become apparent … that the main objective is to bring awareness and to mobilize students to physically stand in solidarity.”
SSRB has been coordinating with students who will be traveling to Standing Rock, organizing caravans and dropoffs to bring people, supplies and donations to North Dakota.
“The oppression of Native Americans … in the context of (the pipeline) is a modern form of dispossession,” Yip said. “To not do anything is to consent.”
Robert Williams, a graduate student from the Canberra Australian National University, attended the event with 18 other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who were visiting American universities through the Aurora Indigenous Scholars Tour.
“(This event) was really fantastic, really empowering — a great insight into native culture,” Williams said. “We can relate as indigenous people. It is good to see such a good turnout.”
The Christian Science Organization at Berkeley matched donations given at the event. According to the vice president of CSO, Josie Ygnatowiz, the event raised $1,382, and with CSO’s matching donation $2,764 will be delivered directly to Standing Rock with the Berkeley students traveling there this week.
“We believe that the coming together of peoples in love and solidarity at Standing Rock to protect the right to a healthy environment is teaching Love and we would like to support our brothers and sisters financially,” Ygnatowiz said in an email.