Martin Elliott Yoakum, first-year Oxbridge literature and theory major, shares with the Monitor the reason behind his goal of becoming an indigenous people’s lawyer.
“[One of the main issues] is the Dakota Access pipeline, which is a proposed pipeline that goes across a lot of tribal areas and it is very close to the Missouri River, and so if it breaks it would cause a lot of environmental damage and cause damage to water sources for the Dakota people and other indigenous people in that area. Also, the building of the pipeline is going directly through areas that have cultural and historical significance, so they are going through special sacred grounds, and that’s not okay. As an indigenous people’s lawyer, I can work to help stop the company that is building the pipeline.”
Yoakum has direct experience with the cause.
“I went to a protest a couple of weeks ago. Kansas City was standing in solidarity with the reservation that most of the protests were happening on, Standing Rock Reservation, which is another Dakota reservation. It is in South Dakota and North Dakota. And so we were just in solidarity with them, so we’re just standing next to the Missouri River and it was an organized protest, and then we walked across the bridge with signs. That was actually my second pipeline protest. I went to a protest for the Keystone Excel pipeline on the Cheyenne River Reservation last year. The ultimate goal was not to have oil pipelines because they cause environmental damage. They are a dying industry, and they’re infringing on the land of Native Americans.”
Furthermore, Yoakum talks about the goals of the protests.
“There was a judge that said the company could go ahead and build the pipeline. The building of the pipeline [is] halted currently but that doesn’t mean it can’t be restarted. The ultimate goal is to not use oil pipelines because oil is a dying industry, [but also to stop the company from infringing] upon the sovereignty of native people in our country, which is totally disregarding their existence and their dignity by putting in these pipelines. ”
Finally, Yoakum goes on to talk about the reason behind his interest.
“My work on the Cheyenne River Reservation for two years [was what spurred my interest]. I worked in a school where the pay was the lowest in South Dakota . The students were not performing in a way that they’re going to do anything. I think just seeing the injustice in that and seeing how laws have been formulated against indigenous people have really affected what I want to do. There is a law that said anybody who is Christian and can find a land that is not [owned by a] Christian can claim it as theirs. That was actually out into American legal code in the 1800s, so it is a real thing that people have the right to do. It was cited in a court case recently in 2005, so laws like that are horrible laws, but are just there because they are accustomed and the majority says they want them to be there and that’s what I want to stop.”