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N.M. Water Protector Talks About What’s Next

Courtesy Mayahuel Garza
Mayahuel Garza at Oceti Sakowin, a camp of water protectors in North Dakota

A judge ruled Monday, Feb. 13, against temporarily halting the oil pipeline in North Dakota, though court battles are ongoing, and people there continue to protest. Mayahuel Garza from Los Lunas, N.M., has made many trips to North Dakota to stand with the water protectors, deliver supplies and offer traditional Aztec ceremony and dance. She spoke with KUNM late last week about her reaction to the news that the Army Corps of Engineers was clearing the way for construction of the pipeline to begin. 

GARZA: It definitely brought me to tears, just thinking about the people in camp and what they must be feeling at this time. It’s like, OK, we can’t allow ourselves to feel defeated. Because we’re still in the fight, and it’s still happening now. And there’s still hope.

KUNM: So the Standing Rock Sioux are going to continue to fight this in court, saying there has to be an environmental impact assessment. Do you think that will stop the pipeline?

GARZA: The Standing Rock Sioux tribe—as well as the Cheyenne River tribe—are both fighting this in court. I don’t have very much confidence in the courts but I do have a hope in the power of prayer, you know? And I believe that the people are going to do everything in their power to fight this.

KUNM: If you pull back and you’re thinking about what this fight has been, what do you think it will mean if the pipeline is built?

Credit Courtesy of Mayahuel Garza
Azteca dancers at Oceti Sakowin

GARZA: I honestly, truly do not believe that it would mean defeat, because this fight has awoken a people that have been asleep for a long time. Even if that pipeline is pumping oil underneath the Missouri River, this struggle has gone beyond Standing Rock. I think that it has already been a victory for our people, giving them that hope and that light and that drive to fight all these other pipelines. There’s camps popping up all over, fighting pipelines everywhere. That’s the ripple effect.

KUNM: And we’ve seen that continue a little bit back home here in New Mexico, too, right, with Chaco Canyon?

GARZA: It was the immense amount of support that Standing Rock received and just everything that happened out in North Dakota that had an effect on what happened here in Chaco Canyon. But the fracking is still very real and alive happening in Chaco Canyon right now. And like you can drive out there right now and be witness to the fracking that’s happening just right there.

KUNM: When you made trips to go to the front lines, did you see violence against the water protectors?

GARZA: Yes, I did see violence, and I recorded with my cell phone, and I posted footage online. It was incredible to see the water protectors diving into freezing cold water and just holding their ground, and seeing Morton County take over the hill and mace and pepper spray and tear gas the people. It’s something that, although I feel very blessed and honored to have been able to be present and witness, it’s something that I feel that this community should have never have been faced with to begin with.

KUNM: So you’re heading back to Standing Rock. Why are you going again?

GARZA: I’m heading back to pick up supplies that right now are really needed and can be used at the Two Rivers camp outside of Marfa, Texas. And they’re fighting the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, which is by the same company. We decided to also support this camp out in Texas, and so we’re picking up water protectors out in Standing Rock and traveling to West Texas to the Two Rivers camp. 

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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