Shailene Woodley's Powerful Essay About Her Arrest Urges Americans To Support The Native American Community
On Oct. 10, a protest in North Dakota made national news after Shailene Woodley was arrested for alleged criminal trespassing. At the time of her arrest, Woodley was protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline — an issue that hasn't been widely covered, but which some believe could have dangerous implications for the Sioux Tribe of North Dakota. Not only would the pipeline destroy a portion of their sacred land, but Woodley and others believe that it could potentially endanger their water supply. (Project developers believe the pipeline "is the safest, most cost-effective and environmentally responsible way to move crude oil, removing dependency on rails and trucks," according to CNN.) Several days after her arrest, Woodley used an Instagram post to strongly indicate the her legal troubles would not deter her from remaining in solidarity with North Dakota's indigenous population. On Oct. 20, Woodley wrote a full statement about her arrest for TIME and it's a must-read.
The actor, who has pled not guilty to the charges against her, used her article to raise a number of important points about what she describes as society's ambivalent attitude towards the Native Americans — a contingent of the population which, as she reminds us, has been in America long before the rest of us. "Well, guess what, America? They’re still here," she wrote. "And they are still fighting the good fight. A fight that serves each and every one of us," referring to the alleged environmental dangers of the pipeline.
Woodley points out that the population itself is silenced, while cultural appropriation is deemed appropriate:
We wear their heritage, their sacred totems, as decoration and in fashion trends, failing to honor their culture. Headdresses, feathers, arrows. Moccasins, sage, beadwork... We buy plastic teepees from Toys-R-Us and set them up in our living rooms for children to play in. We grow up romanticizing native culture, native art, native history… without knowing native reality.
Furthermore, she reminds us that despite all of our resources for knowledge, many Americans have turned a blind eye to as the population's unjust history is allowed to continue. This is such an important point — it's no secret that racism is, sadly, still rampant in our culture. Important conversations are happening when it comes to issues like black men being targeted by police and the notion that immigrants who are Muslim or who are from and Mexico are considered a threat to our society, but the Native American population goes widely unmentioned. To be clear, plenty of people have had deplorable responses to the activism surrounding the issues that are talked about and have even tried to counter the Black Lives Matter movement by forming White Lives Matter (yes, really). There is still a lot of work to be done across the board.
"When we talk about marginalized communities in our country, we do not (on a mainstream level) include Native Americans," Woodley writes — and she's absolutely right. In her article, she points out that 26 other protestors were arrested alongside her, but it took a white woman's arrest to bring attention to the cause. Woodley makes clear that she appreciates the outpouring of support she received after her arrest, but says that instead of the hashtag #FreeShailene, she'd prefer that social media users switch their hashtags to #HonorNativeTreaties or #IStandWithStandingRock.
Woodley concludes her article by urging readers to stand in solidarity with the Sioux tribe — a group that has been ignored despite the fact that they're fighting to prevent a pipeline that could also effect the same people who don't even acknowledge their existence.
It's impossible to pinpoint exactly why the indigenous population has been so widely ignored. Maybe it's because they mainly live on reservations that are separated from the rest of the population. Regardless of the reason, many are faced with blatant and subtle discrimination on a daily basis, but actors and others have begun to speak out more and more.
Perhaps many of us have unintentionally adopted the "out of sight, out of mind" attitude when it comes to the Native American population. And that's exactly why Woodley's activism is so important — although it shouldn't take a white celebrity to bring attention to their plight, she's using her platform as a celebrity to raise awareness in every way possible. Hopefully, people are listening and will begin to integrate Native Americans into their discussions about how to combat racism and help the marginalized members of our country.