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How KU Indigenous Studies Prepared Me for Leadership at Standing Rock
By Shereena Baker

The events taking place at Standing Rock, ND led to many conversations after reading all the social media posts and information from other news outlets.  I knew I couldn’t just talk about it. I knew I had to be there to help in any way that I could.

In November 2016, my son and I traveled 12 hours to Standing Rock with my friend and ISP alumni, Raven Naramore. Along the way, we brainstormed ways to contribute as much as we could. Raven owned a catering company and planned on volunteering in one of the kitchens. I was unsure of my purpose but hoped that I could be of use.

On the first day, we explored the Oceti Sekonkwin camp. We immediately began working in the kitchen after setting up our camping sites. Remodeling and re-organizing all of the food donations took two days to complete. The rest of the time I cooked, served, and cleaned.

It wasn’t long before I began utilizing the leadership skills I gained from my education. Being a member and officer of First Nations Student Association (FNSA) prepared me to speak in front of people and take initiative organizing other volunteers. After working 12-hour days, we sat around the spirit fire and discussed the latest news and the action happening around us. George Coggins’ Federal Public Land and Resources Law course and Elizabeth Kronk Warner’s Federal Indian Law course enabled me to help my fellow water protectors understand the legal aspects of what was being adjudicated in court.

When the time came for us to return home, I felt like I was abandoning my fellow water protectors. We had bonded, worked hard together, and become family.  On the way back to Lawrence, I started planning my return and wondered what I could do until then. I spent time talking with my professors, raising money for supplies, and arranging care for my son, until I was able to go back. This time, I showed up ready to work even harder than the first week.

The day after I arrived, we were called to action on the bridge. We were sprayed with water in freezing temperatures; some were shot with rubber bullets and pepper-sprayed, while concussion grenades were thrown at us. Being on the front lines and witnessing, firsthand, the violence that the police officers and Army Corp of Engineers were inflicting upon us was a reality check of our country’s leaders using violence to silence.

The next morning, I felt honored to get the opportunity to speak on behalf of all the water protectors at camp along with two others. We spoke the truth on the local and national news stations because it was the media that was misrepresenting what was happening. The remaining time that I was there, I continued to work hard in the kitchen and I started using my voice to speak up around camp. I was asked to do various interviews and speaking engagements about my Standing Rock experience, both while I was there and when I got back to Lawrence.

Joshua Miner’s Methods in Transmedia Activism course taught me about the tactics and unfair forces placed upon Indigenous peoples. I used what I had learned in class while at Standing Rock. When I returned, I used what I learned there to explain what was happening firsthand to my fellow classmates. I always knew the KU Indigenous Studies Program would help me grow as an Indigenous woman, but I never expected it would prepare me for Indigenous activism. 

Shereena will graduate in May of 2017 with her Masters Degree in Indigenous Studies.

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