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Whatatutu gathering to support Standing Rock

A WHATATUTU family who visited Standing Rock to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline hosted a gathering this week to light a symbolic ceremonial fire, with support from the Native American people.

Marcus Lloyd, who hosted the gathering, said it was the first time members of the Haka With Standing Rock group, who went over in November last year, had been able to reunite.

Native Americans and environmentalists at Lakota tribe Standing Rock’s land in North Dakota have been in protest camps since April last year, demonstrating against the multibillion-dollar oil pipeline, planned to pass through the tribe’s sacred land.

The tribe says it could threaten their water supply and destroy sacred burial grounds.

The Whatatutu group lit a symbolic ceremonial fire - Te Ahi Kaa o Toka Tu, or, the home fires of Standing Rock - at 7pm on January 2, to coincide with the last hour of January 1 in North Dakota.

The fire had the support of Native American people Mr Lloyd had kept in contact with.

Symbolic fireDue to the district fire ban the fire was “symbolic”, Mr Lloyd said.

“The fire at the main Standing Rock camp Oceti Sakowin was put out at the end of November after the Army Corps of Engineers halted construction of the pipeline, but the younger water protectors lit a new one.

“Our symbolic fire is tied in with that one and it will burn as long as their one burns, until the black snake - the pipeline proposal - is dead.

“Their fires themselves are not big, they’re just small fires that are kept burning with a keeper of the fire and they’re there more for the significance and the ceremonial aspect.

“There is a fire inside all of us, which we brought back from the camp. It was a ceremonial lighting of the fire, in our hearts.”

People arrived from around the country at the Lloyd family pa at Whatatutu for the ceremony and to swap stories, hear tales about the group’s efforts at Standing Rock and discuss environmental issues here in Aoteaora and Tairawhiti.

One of those people was Marcus Ridge, a Native American of Cherokee/Navajo?/Hopi descent. He lives in Rotorua with his Kiwi wife.

“He taught us the importance of fire to the Native American culture,” Mr Lloyd said.

“It was awesome to have that representation.”

Hearing about Standing RockFor other attendees the gathering was a good chance to hear from those who had been to Standing Rock.

“It was great to get together again,” Mr Lloyd said.

“We spent the week sharing experiences with others who came down to show support, many who supported the Haka With Standing Rock social media page.

“It was great for them, as many were unable to get over there, to hear about the experience. We spoke about what happened, shared stories about the camp and the achievements.

“We also discussed the strong participation of Kiwis and Maori and, in particular, the largest contingent being from Tairawhti. Six people went over there in solidarity over three trips.”

Members from those trips are using their experiences to support causes back home, Mr Lloyd said.

“Kereama Te Ua has been working with groups promoting indigenous rights and sacred spaces, such as the group trying to save Ihumatao in Auckland.

“We are supporting water protectors at Waitara, Taranaki, too.

“Here in Tairawhiti we are bringing attention to the exploration for fossil fuels, especially with Statoil and seismic surveying.

“Now, people who may not have taken action previously are aware that the consequences could affect us all.”

Whatatutu lands and legendsThe gathering at Whatatutu was significant, as Whatatutu lands and legends are linked to the ancestor Whirikoka and his pet seal kekeno, whose blubber melted into the earth and became oil.

“The oil in the ground is waahi tapu, and we are also opposed because of the other impacts of the industry on the environment.

“While some see economic benefits, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.”

Other environmental issues include from erosion, such as the Tarndale slip near Whatatutu.

“Silt is pouring into rivers, blocking them and killing life,” Mr Lloyd said.

“We must have the worst erosion in the country. It is an ecological disaster.”

STANDING ROCK SOLIDARITY: Marcus Lloyd (right) hosted a gathering this week at his family pa in Whatatutu to reunite those who had been to Standing Rock, share stories with supporters and light a symbolic ceremonial fire. He is pictured with fellow Haka With Standing Rock member Kereama Te Ua (left), and Naomi Ludlow (centre), another New Zealander they met there.Picture by Airini Forbes