Indigenous organizers and allies gathered Wednesday on the site of the Ohlone Shellmound in West Berkeley for a Water is Life Prayer Walk in solidarity with the Treaty People Walk for Water, which took place at the same time in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The march is part of a movement led by Indigenous people and environmentalists to pressure President Joe Biden to stop construction of the Line 3 pipeline, which will carry tar sands from Canada across Minnesota and under the Mississippi River. The project has been the subject of criticism for its environmental impacts and alleged violations of 19th century treaties.
“Since August 8th, Water Protectors have been walking in prayer for more than 250 miles, from the White Earth Nation in Northern Minnesota to the Capitol building in St. Paul,” stated Michael Bakal, a walk organizer, in a press release. “Local bay area organizations add our voices in calling for the Biden Administration to respect treaty rights and immediately halt construction on the Line 3 pipeline.”
The Bay Area protest began with a press rally at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland and was followed by a march to the Ohlone Shellmound, a sacred site for the local Indigenous population. The location is currently a parking lot under development, a further point of contention for the rally’s organizers.
At the site, protesters gave speeches and joined in prayers of thanksgiving.
“In the Mohawk tradition we begin every important gathering with what’s called the Thanksgiving address,” said Patricia St. Onge, Indigenous organizer and speaker at the rally. “The gratitude that we experience, even in the midst of crisis, is one of the things that makes us human — our capacity to see the gifts and the treasures, even in challenging situations.”
In May, St. Onge attended protests located in Minnesota, where Indigenous people also provided prayers of gratitude.
The Bay Area rally was organized by a coalition of organizations that included 1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations, 350 East Bay, Extinction Rebellion San Francisco, CodePINK San Francisco, Climate Health Now, Jews on Ohlone Land, Voces y Manos Por el Derecho a la Salud and Sunrise Bay Area.
Patricia Contreras Flores, an Indigenous organizer who also participated in the protest, noted how environmental activism has changed in recent years to center the voices of Indigenous activists.
“Our connection to the land is part of who we are. We are related to everything — we’re connected to water, the air and so on.” Flores said. “It’s been a beautiful thing to see and to have environmental movement people build room for Indigenous people.”