Courtesy of Charles Gleberman

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the Association of Native Americans at Yale, or ANAAY, is continuing to educate the Yale community about Indigenous land rights.

In February 2020, ANAAY hosted a teach-in on the topic, organized in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en peoples of British Columbia, Canada, in their protest of the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline across their territory. But despite Canada-wide protests and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pipeline is still on track to be completed, according to CBC News. That teach-in was the last in-person event that ANAAY hosted before the pandemic, but even as the pandemic has impacted Indigenous communities in America and ANAAY’s own advocacy efforts, the organization is still bringing awareness to Indigenous land rights through virtual programming.

“We have a few activism projects, especially now as, you know, public health is returning to normal [and] everyone is getting used to being more distant [per COVID-19 guidelines] that we can start focusing on advocacy a little more,” ANAAY President Evan Roberts ’23 said. “But definitely the pandemic caused ANAAY to reevaluate our priorities. … We are a political advocacy group, but we’re also a community cultural group. … [The latter] took the forefront.”

Roberts added that many Indigenous students relied on the “physical space” of the Native American Cultural Center for community organizing. Since the NACC’s building did not open this year until a few weeks ago, organizing efforts have continued mostly via an online format.

At the beginning of this semester, ANAAY hosted a virtual vigil to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women. Roberts said that along with ANAAY Vice President Hema Patel ’23, the organization has and will continue to raise awareness of Indigenous issues through online programming.

One upcoming project is a teach-in, planned for this summer or next fall, on the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline in Minnesota. According to CNN, the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline was originally built in the 1960s but is currently undergoing an expansion. Advocacy rights website states that the pipeline replacement project violates “the treaty rights of Anishinaabe peoples and nations in its path” and would contribute to climate change more “than Minnesota’s entire economy.”

Still, Roberts noted that the Line 3 Pipeline is not the only project that infringes upon Indigenous land rights. For example, the Line 5 Pipeline — which carries oil from western to eastern Canada — violates Indigenous Chippewa and Ottawa treaty rights that are around 200 years old, according to PBS news outlet GreatLakesNow.

Meghanlata Gupta ’21, former president of ANAAY, told the News that the issue of land sovereignty is central to the identities of many Indigenous people.

“Our lands and our waters and our non-human relatives are foundational to our cultures and our homelands,” Gupta said. “And so the fight to protect our sacred spaces, the fight against pipelines, the fight to protect our cultures is all inseparably tied [to] environmental justice.”

Gupta added that the environmental movement would benefit greatly from the perspective of Black and Indigenous voices, which are often left out of the conversation.

Katie Schlick ’22, co-chair of the Yale College Council Sustainability Team, told the News that the issues around pipeline building have much larger implications than many assume.

“I think there has to just be a reckoning, especially within the environmental movement, of [the fact that] environmental issues are people issues and people issues means human rights issues, racial justice issues, equity issues,” Schlick said. “Environmentalism is so much more than just planting and saving the trees. It’s literally about having common empathy and humanity.”

She added that she is excited to eventually “bring to life” another in-person teach-in event when public health conditions allow.

Gupta told the News that there are various steps allies can take to show solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en community and Indigenous communities more broadly, such as donating to Indigenous fundraising efforts, attending teach-ins and reading about current issues. Last year, ANAAY shared a Wet’suwet’en supporter toolkit which outlines these steps and others in further detail.

Roberts expressed similar sentiments as Gupta and added that allies can also get involved by “helping with the labor” of advocacy efforts so that not all of the responsibility falls upon ANAAY.

She also mentioned other issues of Indigenous land sovereignty — such as the Biden administration’s decision not to halt construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline — about which ANAAY will continue spreading awareness on campus.

“This is an ongoing battle for Indigenous people around the world,” Roberts told the News. “Indigenous rights, for the foreseeable future, will be threatened by the colonial government and often ignored by the mainstream media. … Our roles as advocates and educators to the Yale community will always be the role of ANAAY.”

ANAAY was established in 1989.