On Sacred Ground Amplifies Message of Indigenous Waterkeepers at Standing Rock

A new film, On Sacred Ground, amplifies the critical message of Indigenous waterkeepers at Standing Rock—that water is life. 

In 2016 began one of the largest and most visible protests of environmental injustice in U.S. history, on the Standing Rock Reservation, home to thousands of Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota peoples of the Oceti Sakowin Nation. It was then that the company Energy Transfer began construction there of a segment of the $3.8-billion Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile underground transportation route for Bakken crude oil that stretches from western North Dakota to southern Illinois. Routed in close proximity of the Standing Rock Reservation, and beneath critical water resources including the Lake Oahe reservoir on the Missouri River, the pathway of the pipeline poses a direct threat to the lives of Indigenous peoples on the Standing Rock Reservation and all tribes within the Missouri River watershed. 

Filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell traveled to the front lines to witness the protests and would later produce the film On Sacred Ground, to help amplify the messages of Indigenous peoples and water protectors harmed by environmental injustice. The Dakota Access Pipeline was unfortunately built and has been operational, despite its poor track record of frequent spills that threaten lands and waterways, incompatibility with addressing the climate crisis, and ongoing and current legal challenges. During the protests, which unfolded on the frontlines in Standing Rock and in court, in addition to causing environmental damage, the construction disturbed sacred burial and cultural sites and led to excessive force used against those advocating for the end of pipeline construction.

At Standing Rock, I learned from our Indigenous brothers and sisters that water is life.  It was a big wake-up call to me to realize that the majority of society ignores this most basic yet essential tenant.

– Filmmaker Josh Tickell

On Sacred Ground Film Portrays Standing Rock Protest

Indigenous communities in Standing Rock and across the U.S. face insecurity when it comes to their health and the safety of their water resources. Indigenous peoples—Earth’s original stewards—have long been targeted by governments and the polluting industries that they permit and subsidize to bear the disproportionate burdens of industrial pollution. As a result, Indigenous and other underserved communities experience severe impacts to their emotional and physical health, as well as harm to their cultures and livelihoods. Some of the biggest perpetrators of such environmental injustice are corporations producing, processing, transporting, storing, selling, and disposing of plastics and fossil fuels—plastics’ primary ingredients.

On Sacred Ground conveys these messages, and is based on actual events that occurred during the 2016 construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The film follows a journalist and military veteran named Daniel (William Mapother), and oil company executive Elliot (David Arquette), who navigate opposing sides of the contentious pipeline’s construction and what would ultimately become one of the most visible Indigenous-led protests in modern U.S. history.

To help amplify Indigenous-led efforts for environment justice and spread awareness of the need to protect water and Earth, filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell invite schools and Indigenous communities to screen On Sacred Ground for free.

Help Protect Water in Indigenous Communities

Missouri River in 2021 by CMichel67 (Wikimedia Commons)

New developments are expected as years of legal battles are leading to a new environmental impact statement on the pipeline to be released in spring 2023. According to Nick Tilsen, Oglala Lakota and President and CEO of the NDN Collective, “The Dakota Access Pipeline is currently operating illegally without a permit, putting safe drinking water at risk.” Last year, NDN published a report outlining the dangers and injustices of the pipeline, and how it was built, and why it must be drained and shut down permanently.

Indigenous communities in the Missouri River Watershed and around the U.S. continue to advocate for access to clean, reliable, unpolluted waters free of the risk of development, fossil fuel spills, and other injustices. Learn more about some of the Indigenous frontline communities and groups now advocating for change, listen for calls to action, and offer your support and allyship, here.

Ending plastic pollution and embracing just, equitable, regenerative solutions is a pathway to clean water and safety for all. More fossil fuel and plastics development will only drive more destruction and injustice. Learn about the facts and solutions to plastic pollution, and take action today.


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