By: Savin Mattozzi ~Staff Writer~
Tala Ali, Xavier’s Muslim Chaplain, pulled a strand of hair back under her pink hijab as she looked out the window of her office on the third floor of Gallagher Student Center. Her light brown eyes were illuminated by the sun. After a 20-plus-hour drive from North Dakota, Ali felt nostalgic.
“It hurts, it just hurts,” Ali said. “I think it has made me physically ill. Just watching and wishing more people were there, that I was there.”
Ali, along with a group of activists from the Cincinnati area, made the drive up to North Dakota in early October to join more than 1000 protesters at the Oceti camp to protest the planned Dakota Access Pipeline.
“I was reading about it and saw news about it on social media,” Ali said. “Over dinner with friends one night, I said, ‘Why don’t we go, this is messed up, let’s just go.’ We started talking about it and organizing towards it seriously, and we went.”
The people stationed at the Oceti camp call themselves “water protectors” and oppose the term “protesters” due to its political connotations.
“I am here to protect,” Vlo, a water protector, told the Newswire.
The pipeline is planned to cross the Missouri River, which is the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s major source of water. Protectors are concerned that if there is a leak or if a pipe breaks, it would pollute this water supply and destroy the environment around it.
The heavy handedness of the local authorities has gained attention across the nation this past week as more than 100 water protectors were arrested. Tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds and contested crowd dispersal technologies, such as a long range acoustic device (L-RAD), have been used against peaceful demonstrators in recent weeks.
“I think it’s easy for people to talk about what was done to the Native Americans and that what this country did to them was wrong,” Ali said. “People talk about it and agree on it because they talk about it in past tense. It’s something that doesn’t require any action or real solidarity. It’s easy to talk about in hindsight. Slavery was bad. Well, if slavery was happening now, where would you be? Where would any of us be right now? Would we be putting our bodies on the line like the people at Standing Rock are putting their bodies on the line to stand against an injustice?”
Ali paused and looked out the window again.
“I would challenge people to ask themselves is it enough to just click on a Facebook page. For me, it’s not. What is changing a profile picture going to do for anybody?”
Until Ali can return to North Dakota, she will be watching the news very carefully to see if the cause she wholly believes in will see justice anytime soon.