In sub-freezing temperature, Audrey Paulsen thrust her protest sign high above her head Thursday night.
This was the first anti-Dakota Access Pipeline demonstration the 18-year-old attended, though she considered traveling to the heart of the conflict in North Dakota last year. She stood with her sister in a crowd of 300 or so like-minded supporters at the Salt Lake City and County Building.
A drawing of a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ temple featured prominently on Paulsen’s sign with the inscription: “Would you put a pipeline here?”
“Standing Rock is sacred and they’re building a pipeline right over it," she said. "In Utah, this is where a bunch of LDS people are and this is their picture of holiness. In North Dakota at Standing Rock, it is the same thing.”
Calling themselves "water protectors," Native Americans and allies set up camp near the Standing Rock Reservation last fall to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. They expressed concern that the path of the pipeline interfered with sacred land. They also worried about the potential for water contamination.
The conflict gained national attention when law enforcement arrested dozens of demonstrators. Reports surfaced that protesters were sprayed with water cannons and tear gas, and shot with rubber bullets. One woman was blasted with an explosive and nearly lost a limb.
In late November, the federal government announced a halt to the construction of the pipeline. But this week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reviving the DAPL, as well as the Keystone Pipeline, which the Obama administration also blocked.
In response, the Utah League of Native American Voters organized a demonstration with music, speakers and a march toward the Utah State Capitol.
James Singer is co-founder of the league. He called out Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, for apparent partisanship. From his position of power as the House oversight committee chairman, the congressman has investigated Hillary Clinton with full-steam vigor but isn’t as enthusiastic to dig into President Donald Trump’s alleged conflicts.
In order to protect the interests of minorities, Singer pointed out the need for a broad demographic of representation in government.
“We need you to run for office,” he said. “In 2018 there should be Native people running in every contest. There should be strong, resilient women, the kind we saw on Monday [at the Women’s March] in every contest. There should be scientists and environmentalists to Make America Smart Again, and to Make American Green Again.”
Many water protector supporters see Standing Rock as an emblem for a much larger problem where government and business seek profits at the cost of the environment.
“This fight is significant, not only to the United States but to all humans in the world,” Cassandra Begay with the nonprofit PANDOS, said. “I think what we’re seeing is large corporations and governments that don’t seem to think that clean drinking water is important and that clean air is important. … It’s up to us as the people to protect our drinking water and to start thinking about cleaner alternative energy.”
PANDOS, which stands for Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue and Organizing Support, will also be involved in a demonstration Sunday in Park City.