On Feb. 2, the third-grade students of Washington School actively participated in an assembly led by Blaze Starkey and Jose Zhagnay, Water Protectors from Standing Rock and Defenders of the Water School, which was located in the Ochethi Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock.  This camp, set up in 2016  to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota in the spring of 2016, drew indigenous people from all parts of the globe, calling themselves water protectors and land defenders.

The underground pipeline is 1,172 miles long, reaching from the Bakken shale oil fields in northwest North Dakota to an oil tank farm near Patoka, Ill. A break or even a leak in the pipeline near Lake Oahe along the Missouri River could poison the tribe’s water supply. The pipeline has damaged or destroyed sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance, Mr. Starkey said.

Standing Rock became a center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the pipeline and many supporters came, creating the largest gathering of Native American in the past hundred years.

Mr. Starkey and Mr. Shagnay gently opened the questions of native versus imposed languages and culture. They asked such questions as “What language do you speak?” “Where is England?” and “Where is Spain.” They also explained that they had set up the school because so many families had come to protest the pipeline and stayed with their children for weeks.

The school offered lessons in Lakota language and tradition, as well as traditions and stories from the tribes in the camp. The leaders are now transitioning to a permanent indigenous project based school. In addition, they will be offering one- or two-week camps and a virtual learning environment. The goal is to share traditional knowledge and language with children and continue to fight to protect water and land.