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Local Water Protector Talks DAPL Shutdown

Leslie Peterson via Flickr

In 2016, thousands of people from many tribal nations converged to support the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota in trying to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The oil pipeline was built anyway, and it has sprung leaks since it was constructed. But this week,a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, to stop transporting oil pending a full environmental review. 


Liz Mckenzie is a New Mexico musician who traveled to Standing Rock in 2016 with supplies and lived there for months as water protectors faced state violence. She spoke with KUNM, first offering a land acknowledgement.

LIZ MCKENZIE: I am a Diné woman living here on occupied Tiwa territory in what is known as so-called Albuquerque.

KUNM: Thank you for talking to me today, Liz. So how do you feel about seeing this decision come down now?

MCKENZIE: It is very, very exciting. I mean, this is something that we worked for and fought for, for a very long time. I am very wary though. I feel like a huge part of me is not letting myself believe it yet. And you know, not till everything is said and done, everything is hauled out and there isn't a trace of [DAPL] left.

KUNM: So let's go back to 2016. You traveled from Albuquerque to Standing Rock, North Dakota. That's over 1,000 miles away. Why was it important for you to join the movement to protect the environment there?

MCKENZIE: Well, I mean, it really reflected what was going on in our own land here in New Mexico. I mean the Diné people, we're consistently under attack via fracking. And then from the beginning, you know, uranium mining and coal mining. And even the Navajo Nation, the government was put in place by the Peabody coal mine.

My shicheii, my maternal grandfather, he worked in a uranium mine. He passed at a younger age because of uranium poisoning. This is, you know, something that I see happening on my people's land on a day-to-day basis. And with Standing Rock, because there was such a big movement—LaDonna Allard, she was the person who owned the Sacred Stone camp up in Cannon Ball. She saw this happening, and she put out the call for people to come up and help occupy the territory in a prayerful manner. I just had my own moment of realization that I needed to go up there.

KUNM: Moving forward, what would you want to see happen next?

MCKENZIE: Well, I mean, of course, to get DAPL out. Second of all, I strongly believe that there should be reparations made for the water protectors who were met with violence from the National Guard and from the law enforcement officials. I have a friend who was hit with a rubber bullet in the eye, and then there's the water protector who, you know, almost had her arm blown off. I had another friend who almost lost his hands because in the harsh winter, they handcuffed him, and they put them on so tight that it cut off the circulation. And it's not even just the people who were met with violence. It's also the people who face jail time and legal action.

KUNM: So the Bureau of Land Management is considering opening up land in Northwestern New Mexico to oil drilling and fracking, including land that's near the ancestral Puebloan site of Chaco Canyon. Do you see any parallels to what happened with DAPL in this move?

MCKENZIE: Oh, yeah, totally. And you know, fracking at Chaco has been happening for years. And then there's also a sneaky move that they want to clean up the mines,  and they want to hire locals to do it, but not give them hazard pay. You know, they want to haul nuclear toxic waste through the Diné land. There's so much happening everywhere.

KUNM: What did you take from your experience at Standing Rock, that assists you in what you do today?

MCKENZIE: Standing Rock just kind of enforced the belief in myself that when a community comes together, they can make a huge impact.


Ty Bannerman has been writing about New Mexico for over a decade. He is the author of the history book Forgotten Albuquerque and his work has appeared in New Mexico Magazine, Atlas Obscura, Eater, and the American Literary Review. While at the Weekly Alibi, Albuquerque’s alternative newspaper, he served as food editor, features editor and managing editor. He co-hosts two podcasts: City on the Edge, which tells Albuquerque stories, and Anytown, USA, which virtually explores a different US county each week. He has two children and way too many dogs and chickens.
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