Synopsis: Sixteen year old Tokata Iron Eyes is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and has been involved with the movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline since its inception. We asked the young activist to show us some of her most sacred places in South Dakota. With a small group of friends – all artists and activists, we traveled together recording video interviews and landscape drone shots of the youth activist discussing the landscapes, their histories, as well as the personal and political issues that arose from being in these sacred sites. The film offers a tender, selfless portrait of a young woman who we consider a model for future political engagement. In the Lakota language, “Tokata” means “Future”.
When Dakota Access LLC proposed to build a pipeline that would transport 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day across the Missouri and Cannonball rivers, two critical water supplies to the Standing Rock Sioux. Recognizing that an oil spill would threaten Standing Rock Reservation’s drinking water and farm irrigation, the Standing Rock Sioux opposed the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). For the Standing Rock tribe and surrounding communities, the pipeline was not only a threat to the region’s drinking water and farm irrigation, but was also a direct threat to ancient burial grounds and cultural sites of historic importance.
In early 2016, the local Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of Native American supporters from across North Dakota set up camps along the Cannonball River to try to block the oil project. The #NoDAPL hashtag began to trend on social media and, gradually, the camps at Standing Rock grew to thousands of people. That winter, I travelled to Cannonball, North Dakota and the Standing Rock Reservation to join the protests. I believed along with thousands of other opponents of DAPL that the pipeline threatens sacred native lands and could contaminate the Missouri River—the longest river in North America.
The youth from Standing Rock and surrounding Lakota communities were at the forefront of this movement. During my stay at the Standing Rock camps, I was moved by the activism of these young water protectors, One of them was Tokata Iron Eyes. She and her parents were instrumental leaders of the movement. Later we became friends and discussed making a film together. I want to thank Tokata Iron Eyes for graciously sharing some of her most sacred sites in South Dakota and for lending her voice, intelligence and joy to this film. I can’t wait to see the gifts she gives this world in the future.
Andrea Bowers is an artist + activist based in Los Angeles. Her practice includes explicitly political works that span drawing, video, and installation — dealing with the struggle for gender, racial, environmental, and immigration justice. She has recently had solo exhibitions at the Museum Abteiberg, Germany (2020) and the Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst, Germany (2019). Her work can be found in the collections at MoMA NY, The Whitney Museum, The Hirshhorn, MoCA LA, and others.