Our initial instruction is to protect the sacred

My name is Kampeska Cinkila Win, my English name is Nicole Montclair Donaghy.

NicoleI’m a Húŋkpapȟa-Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna sovereign being of the Standing Rock Nation, I also honor my descendancy of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people on my father’s side. I come from a place where the root causes of disparities lie in historical experiences of oppression and exclusion.

My people were the last to surrender to the United States government and were forcibly relocated to settle on Standing Rock in south central North Dakota. I am the youngest of 12 children, my family was born and raised on the Standing Rock Reservation. Both of my parents were products of the boarding school era and were both removed from their homes at a young age. Unrecognized to me, we grew up in what the western world would consider poverty.

My childhood home is in Ikicita Hanska (Long Soldier District or Fort Yates) and I was very fortunate to be surrounded by rolling plains and alongside the Mni Sosa (Missouri River). Despite the view from the outside world, our reservation is a place of beauty and simplicity that is long forgotten in many parts of the world. My father taught us how to fish and hunt large game that migrated through every season, and in the summer, we gathered tinpsila (wild turnips), chokecherries, and wild plums. We had everything we needed, and my upbringing connected my heart and spirit to the land that sustained us.


My parents often told me stories of hardship and resilience and of what it was like growing up for them. My mom shared stories of when her hometown was flooded under the Pick Sloan Act, which created a water diversion project that moved billions of gallons of water onto tribal lands in order to create energy security for the people of North Dakota. My father told me stories of how my grandpa was on tribal council and actively worked to protect Fort Berthold from the devastation of the water diversion project.

The history and trauma perpetrated by the US government is not that long ago and the stories of hardship are shared with younger generations.

Standing Rock reservation was established in 1889 and is the remaining land base that the federal government recognizes after the land grab sale of surplus Indian land. After decades of forced removal, assimilation, murder, and genocide the United States came with another infrastructure plan under the Pick Sloan Act in the late 1940’s. Despite the debate to build reservoirs elsewhere, my people once paid a great sacrifice by forcibly relocating and unwillingly forfeiting millions of acres of land. Well-established tribal towns and villages that once thrived are now buried under water along the Missouri River.


Turtle Island has a long history that demonstrates the many waves of takers of land and life. First the US came for our lives, then our land, then our water. Our initial instruction as humans is to protect the land and all life so that coming generations will have a healthy planet. We are taught to respect and understand the power of water, the value of clean air and land, things that are invaluable and could never be owned or sold.

After college, I was hired to be a community organizer for Dakota Resource Council. My assignment was to work on oil and gas issues in the Bakken. Though I worked on several oil and gas campaigns, my most memorable time was working on the Fort Berthold Reservation in the heart of the Bakken oil fields. I worked against the devastation of fracking and the industrialization of our ancestral lands.

NASA oil fields

I witnessed many oil and toxic brine spills that left the land barren, the social fabric of communities desecrated, and neighbors pitted against each other over surface rights and water ownership. In North Dakota, flares burn 24 hours a day that are visible from space that challenge the intensity of a large city. The small segment of New Town now has a layer of smog over it that is visible from miles away. After centuries of being unchanged, our ancestral lands and natural resources have been stripped in the name of capitalism.

Our concept of land stewardship outdates the concept of capitalism and nationalism. We know that without a viable world there is no future. In an ideal world we will have equitable access to create alternative energy security for our communities free from fossil fuels. Front line communities bear the burden of advocacy for themselves while facing the harms of environmental impact, externalized cost of production, and toxic pollution. Our reliance on fossil fuels is not a sustainable model when the process destroys the communities they invade.

Defend Sacred

Our region has seen some of the toughest winter weather on record but in 2020 we experienced one of the warmest winters ever. Our state has been in drought for the last three years. We can see the change in weather patterns in our region. Our reservations are targets for extraction since most are untouched and hold valuable finite resources. We know that what we have is greater and more precious than money.

Without clean air, land, and water we know we will not survive, and life cannot be sustained. We are often the last to be notified when infrastructure projects come to our borders and the first to sacrifice.


Nicole Montclair Donaghy is Executive Director of North Dakota Native Vote, She is a member of Climate Generation’s Window into COP26 Delegation this November. In October 2018, Nicole joined North Dakota Native Vote to boost on voter education and voter engagement in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the voter identification law that disproportionately affects tribal people in North Dakota. Learn more about Nicole and subscribe to follow her experience at COP26.

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