No reservation: Local siblings compelled to join Native Americans in pipeline protest

By on February 8, 2017
Samantha and Stephen Wilson of Lititz joined the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, which made national headlines, in October. Construction of the pipeline was approved this week.

Samantha and Stephen Wilson of Lititz joined the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, which made national headlines, in October. Construction of the pipeline was approved this week.

You might not expect to find a Lititz brother and sister at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota as Native Americans protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Yet, Stephen Wilson and his younger sister Samantha were there in October, joining the cause to prevent the pipeline from going through sacred lands and potentially damaging water supplies.

Construction of the pipeline was approved Tuesday, but the protests will continue.

“The most powerful moment I experienced happened on the first night we went to Big Camp,” Samantha recalled. “There were three children riding around in the back of a slow-moving truck that were chanting, ‘Mni Wiconi! Water is life!’ Isn’t it crazy that these children already have to face the fears of losing their right to clean water? I was in shock seeing such young humans who understand the concept of conserving for our future when the CEOs and governors cannot look past today.”

So, how did Stephen, 27, and Samantha, 19, find their way to taking a stand at Standing Rock?

It all began with their cousin, Rob Wilson, a photo journalist, who was living there and documenting the efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. When Samantha saw the photographs, she felt a surge of activism.

“The human rights violations and the way the big oil companies were using their power and money to stomp on the people seemed crazy to me, considering the freedoms the U.S. prides itself on giving to people,” Samantha said.

At first, she assumed that the water protectors were only the Native Americans living in North Dakota who might be affected by the pipeline. When she realized there were people from all around the world coming together to stand up for the rights of the people in North Dakota, she wanted to do something. She wanted to be there.

“My brother felt the same way, and we both wanted to show our support by traveling to North Dakota to stand alongside our brothers and sisters,” said Samantha, who graduated from Warwick High School in 2015 and plans to be an educator.

So, Stephen and Samantha set out to join their cousin and do their part to create awareness of the plight of the Native Americans standing up for clean water.

“I was nervous about bringing my sister along, after watching some intense videos of the private security violently attacking the peaceful protectors,” recalled Stephen, a 2007 Warwick graduate who works as a tour prep technician with a local audio company and is pursuing a degree at Lancaster Bible College.

His sister was just as determined as he was, so the two set out to find out if the injustices they were seeing on social media were true. They wanted to know if there was a peaceful way to oppose the pipeline.

“I sought the truth about what was going on by conversing with the people there,” Stephen said, adding that his work was practical too, such as helping to build shelters for winter and assisting with food and clothing distribution.

At Sacred Stone Camp within the Standing Rock Reservation, the Wilsons could see the section of the Missouri River where the pipeline is slated to be installed. The river supplies the entire region with drinking water. Concerns about possible spills or leaks had galvanized the Native Americans and those who stood with them.

A protester attempts to stall the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A protester attempts to stall the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The camp where they stayed had between 50 and 100 people. During their week in October, the Wilsons were at the camp for one “action,” a gathering of praying and singing. They were on their way when everyone was arrested.

As Stephen explained, the protest is about a pipeline that was originally scheduled to go through a wealthier white community, but was denied because of safety concerns. When the plans were shifted to running through a more impoverished Native American community, they had the same reaction about water safety.

Both communities came to the conclusion that the environmental and safety issues outweighed the financial benefits, but the Dakota Access Pipeline was able to force construction on the alternate route.

“Pipelines are not built to last and have catastrophic consequences when they do break. They poison drinking water for the people, damage crops, and poison cattle,” Stephen claims.

His sister agrees. She credits celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley and reporters like their cousin for bringing the issue to light. She is concerned that large corporations can use power and money to push the pipeline through, despite its risks.

“These pipelines have showed repeated complications. They destroy water supplies, kill the animals and wildlife, and ruin the land. If we do not support the end of the Dakota Access Pipeline, we will face this here in our town,” Samantha said, noting that he pipeline in Pennsylvania has already leaked into the Susquehanna River.

Their mother Sharon Wilson, an English teacher at Warwick High School, is proud of her son and daughter, as is Stephen’s twin sister Chelsea. Wilson feels that their late father Aubrey would be proud as well.

“My husband and I tried to teach and model the belief that true love requires action, not just words,” Wilson said, adding that the family has been involved in volunteering to work on homes in Appalachia, Penn State THON fundraising, and working with the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana.

Stephen and Samantha may have traveled all the way to North Dakota to seek the truth, but they believe the protest affects everyone in Lancaster County.

“Our children and friends will not be able to drink water the way we do now,” Samantha fears. “Our future is at risk, and we must stand now to stop this.”

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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