Indigenous rights activist Eryn Wise learned some hard lessons while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in North Dakota two years ago and it has changed her perspective about the future.

“When I left Standing Rock, I didn’t have the rose-coloured glasses I did when I first got there,” said Wise. “I was going to stop a pipeline. Everyone is ready to stop a pipeline until they are at the blunt end of a rifle. Everyone is ready to stop a pipeline until they see someone’s arm being blown off. It’s all fun and games until you see your friends being thrown into dog kennels and marked with numbers.”

The LA-based activist was invited to speak Wednesday during the annual general meeting of the Wellington Water Watchers. The topic of her speech, Defend It Yourself: Storytelling in Extractive Environments, focused on her experiences organizing indigenous youth at Standing Rock and her ongoing work with the organization Seeds of Sovereignty.

Her speech was laced with satirical wit and, at times, was even funny but beneath the surface she seethed with moral outrage at the power structures that deny constitutionally guaranteed treaty rights to indigenous people and perpetuate white privilege. No one was spared from her ire, not even the predominately white assembly of water activists that invited her to speak.

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