#NoDAPL – A Closer View from a Young Anishinaabe Woman


Dave Matthews benefit for Standing Rock - photo credit - Jaime Pinkham, Nez Perce

More helpful words from another clear thinker.

This time, a young woman. Kayla DeVault is an Anishinaabe, enrolled Shawnee. She lives on the Navajo nation where she is studying Diné studies at Diné College and working as a civil engineer for the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation. She is also a youth ambassador for Generation Indigenous who has attended meetings at the White House.

Several weeks ago, she spoke before the leadership of Navajo requesting they remove all investments currently supporting oil, coal and uranium extraction and shift those funds to support the Standing Rock Sioux people currently opposing the Dakota Access pipeline. In response to the voices of DeVault and others, the Navajo Nation formally announced their solidarity with the Water Protectors and #NoDAPL.

I’ve excerpted here some of the article in which she chronicles her subsequent time at Standing Rock. The piece was originally published in Truthout on November 25, 2016.

A week later, I stood on the front lines of #NoDAPL while energy company employees hit us with pepper spray and threatened us with attack dogs. I found everything dear to me, suddenly, at the heart of this battle — fought by people from the four corners of the world.

Which brings me to the significance of counting by four. To understand Standing Rock, you must remove the Western lens and adopt a holistic, indigenous perspective of the world.


Where I live in the Navajo Nation, the culture is steeped in fours. Dinébikéyah, the land given to the Diné (Navajo) by the Holy People, falls between four sacred mountains. The day is broken into four phases, which correlate to the four stages of life and the four steps that govern life in Navajo philosophy: Nitsakees (Thinking), Nahat’a (Planning), Iina (Living), and Sihasin (Reflection, which provides hope and assurance). Each Navajo has four clans that constitute his or her identity.

The beauty of using fours, to define so many aspects of life, is that we are forced to see the holistic picture. Without this bigger picture, we lose sight of the interconnectedness of humans to nature and to each other.


Everything in Navajo philosophy is related to the concept of balance, and even groups of fours balance one another. These are pairs rather than opposites, and maintains what Navajos call hózhǫ́, a sort of harmony the universe relies on. The other key concept is k’é, or your relations. These could be your siblings, your clan relatives, your tribe, or even your belonging among all creations on this shared planet.

To me, conversations of hózhǫ́ and k’é are crucial to global talks of sustainability. We cannot address how climate change will affect our futures if we do not acknowledge the need for both balance and our fellow beings. The concepts may be of Navajo origin, but they embody the holistic viewpoint of many indigenous communities.


I want to make sure the world’s youth hear an indigenous perspective on sustainability and comprehend how the need to protect our cultural identity and exercise our tribal sovereignty in the DAPL fight impacts our survival as nations.

Because we are still learning how to erase the colonization of our own minds to really see the cultural implications of our so-called “infrastructure projects,” perhaps it is easier to identify straightforward acts of environmental racism, such as placing a refining factory within an impoverished community. Perhaps we can more easily oppose using cheap labor as a country’s leading export or stand up for the rights of a particular sex, gender, or religion.


What does this view have to do with the climate? To achieve sustainability in any society, we must ensure the protection of four areas of community well-being:

Environmental: We are all made of water. We all breathe air. We cannot change our dependency on the four elements or the fact that they create us; therefore, we must protect our environment.

Economic: No community can operate without an adequate and fair economy. Furthermore, the diversity and adaptability of an economy are key to its survival.

Social: Our relationships to one another ensure the well-being of us as individuals and as societies. Our communities thrive when we have mutual respect, safety, and room for personal growth.

Cultural: Identity is a critical part of community sustainability, and it is often left out of the greater picture. This is a crucial issue when indigenous communities attempt to assert their sovereign authority and are faced with infringement of their cultural freedoms and rights which, without, would destroy the ability to maintain harmony.


The assurance of cultural well-being and sustainability as a global community while combating the short-term visions and greed of corporations. We must remember the importance of hózhǫ́ — balance — and that we, as beings of the Five Fingered Clan, are connected as k’é — relatives. We are made of the same four elements, and we share the same finite resources. As my my mother says: “We may be coming from all four directions, but we all come from the same neighborhood — the earth.”

Email this to someoneShare on LinkedInTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *