Native American students and activists from Southern California are pointing to the ongoing protests over a controversial oil pipeline in North Dakota as a way to highlight sovereignty issues on and near tribal lands in the West.
"At the end of the day, we are all human beings and we are dependent on water, there is no substitute for water," said Joely Proudfit, director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at CSU - San Marcos, who has had students, alumni and staff participate in supporting the demonstration at Standing Rock.
"All Native peoples – regardless of age, gender or location – have come together to say enough is enough: these are our tribal lands, these are our ancestors whose bones will be disturbed," said Proudfit.
Controversies over military construction near San Diego and a wind project in Ocotillo show that these issues also play out close to home, she added.
Since last summer, protesters from across the nation have been traveling to North Dakota to join Native Americans who are trying to prevent the pipeline, which they say will desecrate ancient burial sites and threaten their water supply.
The 1,100-mile long project, called the Dakota Access Pipeline, is designed to carry more than half a million barrels of crude oil per day from oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois. It's planned path runs near Sioux tribal land and beneath the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has authority to assess part of the project, has said it "has worked diligently to meet its obligations" to consult with Native American Tribes and has consulted more than 250 times with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
The protesters call themselves "water protectors" and many have camped out a the site for months. Over the past months, they've clashed frequently with law enforcement officials.
On Monday, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple issued an immediate evacuation order, citing the dangers of sub-freezing weather. That follows an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deadline set for December 5 for all protesters to leave or face prosecution.
The potential showdown prompted Anderson Gould, a military veteran and Navajo based in San Diego, to shift his work schedule so he could make a trip to Standing Rock this weekend.
"I just felt that a strong veteran presence would be powerful and it would send a message not just to the law enforcement there, but across the country," said Gould, who is also an alumni of the CSU-San Marcos program.
"We need to go there and make a stand for them," he said.