When Minneapolis-St. Paul youth organizer Mary Anne Quiroz was first approached by some of the kids she mentors about traveling nearly eight hours to the Standing Rock Native American Reservation in North Dakota, she asked them why.
In partnership with her husband, Quiroz operates a dance, cultural and activist organization called Indigenous Roots. She believes that people who travel to the Standing Rock camp to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is planned to subterraneously cut through the reservation beneath its water supply, carrying 470,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois daily, must travel with one thing in particular—a clear and good intention.
“Some of the youth that I work with and mentor were like, ‘You went to Standing Rock? I wanna go, will you take me? My parents won’t take me,'” Quiroz said. “I said, ‘I’m gonna help you do all that, (but) what are you going for?’ … I didn’t want them to just go out there, hang out, take selfies and be like, ‘Oh yeah, I was at Standing Rock.'”
Quiroz wanted every child and young adult to look back on their time at the reservation and be able to identify what they did to help.
” ‘Today I went to the kitchen and I helped serve food,'” she listed. ” ‘Today I went to the medic tent and helped organize supplies.’ ‘Today I went to the Youth Tribal Council and I learned what the youth at Standing Rock are doing.'”
In late September, Quiroz traveled with 148 young indigenous and Latinx people to the protest camp, now host to upwards of 5,000—some say as many as 10,000—people. Twin Cities PBS producer Ariel Tilson shadowed the group and filmed their experience.
Video by Twin Cities PBS producer Ariel Tilson.
As the Dec. 5 deadline to evacuate the protest site neared, Quiroz prepared to travel to Standing Rock once more. She sat down with Rewire and Tilson to talk about leading the youth caravan and her return trip to the camp.
Rewire: What’s the origin story of the youth caravan? How did it come together?
Quiroz: The youth caravan itself, I didn’t even need to publicize it and recruit youth to come, because just the few Native youth I was working with in St. Paul… just that by itself, they recruited themselves. It wasn’t even me trying to recruit youth to go, it was my husband and I, Indigenous Roots, basically providing the space the time and the opportunity for youth to go to Standing Rock. So I can’t say that I brought those youth. The youth mobilized themselves, all I did was get resources together for them. Which is what youth work should be. Us as adults shouldn’t be mandating how it’s going to go, the youth should be like, “Yes, we wanna go, we want to accomplish this. How can adults be supportive of it? How can adults guide us?”
Tilson: Did the trip meet your expectations?
Quiroz: For me, it’s more like the end goal, did we meet the purpose , did we meet the intentions we set out to do? We took two very different distinct groups, a majority of them were Native and Latino youth and family, and then we had folks from (sustainability organization) MN350, white allies that came with us. And there was some cultural conflict here and there, but not just in culture but also in age. … But we have to find the middle ground and just gently remind folks of what the intention is of being out there. In the end, people kind of forgot themselves individualistically and figured out what they were truly there for. The camp is so powerful, you get sucked into, “Oh yeah, that’s right, all these people are here for the same purpose.”
We went to the Standing Rock reservation side, and saw where it all started. … (The youth went to) Sacred Stone camp, so this was the original camp that started in April, that started the movement, and they were able to learn about how it started, why did it start. And that for me was probably the most powerful thing, because I needed them to hear it from someone else: not from me, not from social media, they needed to hear it from the folks who had been there originally, protecting the water and protecting the land.
I had specific duties for the younger kids. There’s about five or six of them, and they’re all 12 and under, and they’re all like, “What should we do?” I was like, “You guys have two jobs.” Their job there at Standing Rock was to play, and to basically send out good energy, that’s all you guys have to do. No arguing, no fighting, just play, play all day and send out good energy. So that’s what they did and they accomplished it marvelously.
Rewire: Ariel, what was it like to film the visit?
Tilson: It’s almost like crossing into a different world or going back in time, and going to a place of people, like she said, of very pure intentions and grounded intentions. And, yeah, they’re humans so conflicts arise, but overall the camp was about connection and optimism and having these wise elders and wise leaders and wise youth speak around a fire about the potential and what this all means and the larger significance.
To be part of that sacred energy and community was just breathtaking. It was hard to pick my camera up because I just wanted to be there and absorb it and not take anything from the experience. I just wanted to be there and offer my presence. But I’m so glad that I was able to get even just a little glimpse of it, especially for the youth, who this is going to be a lifelong memory and it’s going to motivate their futures.
Rewire: Mary Anne, why are you returning to Standing Rock?
Quiroz: One of the intentions is supply delivery: we have a yurt and some stoves and some winter stuff to bring to some folks out there. So we’re going to be there; I don’t think I’ll be too scared to go to the front lines (of the demonstration) if (U.S. military) veterans are going to be there. There are 2,000 of them “self-deploying” themselves out there. It’s a historic moment, and if people can go they should go.
We might dance. I think it’s a little too cold to be dancing in the blizzard. For me, dancing makes me happy and dancing is the best way I can offer my energy always. I hope people see that when I dance.
Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.