Over Thanksgiving break, John Neitge, a voice for the Native American people, will take his sixth trip to Standing Rock, North Dakota since September. Neitge looks to discover how he can make the most of his time as to how it will benefit the tribe.
Neitge believes in using the resources available to him to make it easy for fellow students who would like to help at the camp as the Sioux stands firm in their desire to protect their land. That includes sleeping bags, his van, and his own food.
“I try to make it as easy as possible for people to go out and do work at the camp,” Neitge said.
Since he has made the road trip several times, he also describes the setting to the people he talks to in the hopes it will create more of an awareness for the gravity of the situation at Standing Rock.
What he has learned most about being at Standing Rock is to not be a tourist; in other words, it is not a camping trip. Not only has physical presence helped in preventing the pipeline from going in the ground, but a problem also arises when allies give more than what they take. For instance, if they arrive with a tent and sleeping bag, but forget firewood and ask for some, Neitge said that’s fine. But if they are not helping out in the kitchen to feed everyone or not helping out with something to make the camp more productive, then he feels they shouldn’t be there.
“This is about the humanity of it all,” Neitge said. “Do you have the power as a human being to stand up to an injustice when it presents itself or are you going to choose to be silent and passive and not engage?”
If people have the passion to take that stand, that’s why Neitge wants to be able to help as much as he can.
As an indigenous person himself, Neitge has accumulated his own passion and perspective over the years leading up to this event.
All he knows about his dad is that he was from Venezuela, while his mom was from Florida. Since his biological dad already had a family of his own, Neitge and his twin sister were put up for adoption. All he knows about himself is that he is a combination of Venezuelan, Native American, and possibly some British. As for the indigenous aspect, the DNA testing both twins took revealed they may have originated from as far as the southern tip of South America to Alaska.
Surprisingly, Neitge said he did not have as much interest in his ancestry as most adopted children do.
“I don’t really care who my family was,” he explained. “For me it’s about reconnecting with my people, I guess, and less so about my family.”
Neitge says being Native American also means acknowledging the differences that he and other indigenous people share outside of being Dakota or Whapunon or Navajo. Part of it is the common struggles that they face, such as what is happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline in regards to land and resources.
“That’s been going on for ages,” Neitge said.
He also said that, personally, it’s hard for him to fight for an issue that stands with one nation, but it is easier to rally around the pan-Indian movements that affect everyone.
Neitge also feels a deeper spiritual connection to land since you cannot pick it up and take it with you like a tangible object. He said that, for Native Americans, spirituality has to do with where you were born. While he acknowledged that many places have meaning for various indigenous peoples, Standing Rock takes on a whole new perspective.
“What we’re doing right now is instilling spirituality into the land as well,” Neitge said. “I think a hundred years from now, Native American folks are going to look back at Standing Rock as being a place where we took a stand and we changed something.”
Neitge also noted how people have held a balance of prayer, action, and good conversation at Standing Rock. He said prayer could be used as a means of guidance in how to coordinate action.
Most of all, Neitge believes and rests in his hope that Standing Rock will unify all Native Americans as a voice so in the future, they will take a stand for each other if needed.