Water warriors

Diné veterans head to Standing Rock

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero Navy combat veteran John Shirley from Wide Ruins, Arizona, said his call to duty for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the thousands of protestors demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline near Cannonball, North Dakota will be shown through peace and love as he stands on the “front lines” between a militarized police and peaceful protestors.

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Navy combat veteran John Shirley from Wide Ruins, Arizona, said his call to duty for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the thousands of protestors demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline near Cannonball, North Dakota will be shown through peace and love as he stands on the “front lines” between a militarized police and peaceful protestors.

WINDOW ROCK

In place of her M16, the rifle she used to protect herself with for 13 years in the Marine Corps, will be her tádídíín, her prayer, and compassion as a Diné woman.

TyAnn Nakai, originally from Tse’Si’Ani, Arizona, who also served in the Air Force and the North Carolina Air National Guard, said she and 20 fellow veterans will be caravanning to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to peacefully stand on the front lines and guard protestors demonstrating against the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ $3.8 billion dollar 1,172-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline project.

Since seeing videos of the Nov. 21 clash between protestors, self-proclaimed “water protectors,” and law enforcement, Nakai said the oath she took when she enlisted, which was to “defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” prompted her decision to go.

Early last Monday, law enforcement rained concussion grenades upon unarmed protestors, sprayed them with water using water cannons in frigid temperatures, and shot rubber bullets at protestors just outside the reservation’s northern borders, on State Highway 1806 at the Backwater Bridge, near the community of Cannonball, North Dakota. The clash was live-streamed on Facebook by demonstrators.

While police claim their reasons to use “non-lethal” methods became necessary when three protestors were observed to be “carrying multiple metallic cylinder objects” and walking towards the burned vehicles that barricaded the highway “to cause harm or breach the line,” protestors staunchly disagreed and said police began firing on them without warning. Activists said the confrontation resulted in Sophia Walinsky severely being injured when a concussion grenade reportedly hit her. She was flown to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

When Nakai watched the videos, she said she felt anger and disappointment at the tactics police used on “peaceful and unarmed demonstrators,” but quickly reminded herself not to think ill of the police officers because of the “Calling My Spirit Home” ceremony that was performed for her when she finished her military service. Nevertheless, Nakai said her heart told her she was needed to serve her country and her countrymen, once again.

“I feel like it is my duty. They called for us veterans and it hit my heart,” Nakai said. “We are going to protect our fellow brothers and sisters.”

Nakai stressed that their motivation was not to go to Standing Rock to fight with police, but to stand guard on front lines and pray for everyone, especially for police, while shielding activists.

“I’m going as a prayer warrior,” Nakai said in a text message.


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