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Marilyn Wapass

Emily Eaton

In August of 2013, Marilyn Wapass and a small group of women from the Thunderchild First Nation, set up camp on their ceremonial Sundance grounds in order to defend the site from seismic testing already underway. In the process of preparing cut lines and setting off seismic explosions, prayer cloths that hung in trees had been torn down and desecrated; according to protocol the lodges and cloths from previous years must not be removed from the site. In setting up camp on the grounds, Marilyn and the other protestors were also making a statement that the Chief and Council had not conducted adequate consultation before they signed the exploratory permit. The protestors felt this was partly because the nation stood to gain through their equity interest in Tonare Energy should the oil company proceed with extraction. In response, band officials sought and won a court injunction, which forced the land defenders to leave. But their 21-day protest has, at least until now, stopped oil drilling on the sacred site, though there is still slant drilling taking place on the Nation. Marilyn and supporters continue to fight the matter in court.

According to Marilyn, the Sundance is the most significant ceremony for many Indigenous cultures and the grounds themselves are exceedingly sacred, in part because they host the lodges and prayer cloths of previous years. Until the mid 1900s the federal government prevented Indigenous Peoples from engaging in Sundance ceremonies, and so the Sundance is also bound up in relations of colonial domination and resistance.