Standing Rock Interview: New Zealand-born Samoan Activist Tu’ulenana Iuli

November 7, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


Revolution: If you could tell me your name...

Tu’ulenana Iuli: My name is Tu’ulenana Iuli. I’m a New Zealand-born Samoan. My parents emigrated from Samoa to New Zealand and I was born and raised in Auckland and I immigrated to Australia.

Revolution: Could you share with us why you’re here, why did you come?

Tu’ulenana Iuli: We’ve had a lot of struggles in the land where I was born in terms of indigenous rights, in terms of treaties, honoring duel sovereignty, the sharing of the rights of indigenous people of the land and non-indigenous. So there’s discussion and development going on in terms of language and cultures that were repressed before, then and now. We fought to get our language and culture reinstated in education, also health services, also justice services. And in doing all these things, First Nations, American people have come to support us every time. So there is the reciprocal factor that we come to another First Nations indigenous people in this country. If we look at what the needs are, Standing Rock stands for us like that, and I think it stands for a lot of other indigenous nations. They see hope for their own stands that they need to make for the land, for the water, for the air they breathe. Standing Rock represents for us.

Revolution: What do you think the world needs to know about what’s happening here?

Tu’ulenana Iuli: People in the world need to know that again the tiny few that control the minerals and fossil fuels are controlling what happens to the land and the water, and that the people of this land have decided they can’t afford to allow that to happen to their water and they’re prepared to give up their freedom, their liberty. They’re prepared to give up jobs, everything, to be here, to announce to everybody that we will not allow that to happen. And that’s, for some it’s quite magical, there’s a story that has drawn everybody, and the whole world is watching. I’ve gotta say that the magnitude of this protest action, because there are many around, it just seems to raise  this collective of Standing Rock as the place we are watching and it just makes so much sense, about us being together and fighting for this.

Revolution: What do you think are the consequences if DAPL is successful in building this pipeline and what do you think are the consequences if the people are able to stop it? What difference does it make?

Tu’ulenana Iuli: For me, myself, and this is how I think of it—Standing Rock is a victory today, it’s raised hope for others everywhere. And there are small Standing Rocks or other Standing Rocks around. It means that this is an ongoing, everything, every day this is a victory for us. Every moment that we spend here is a victory for us. If, what happens, if the Black Snake is able to be stopped, then I believe it will be a great victory, not only for Standing Rock but for the whole. This is the biggest free enterprise, commercialized country in the world, they lead. And if a group of people that believe in looking after their communities, looking after their water, after the land, get a victory, then that will stand for a lot of things, a lot of people. As I see it, it’s already started, it’s already created that influence, and I can’t see it not stop, it’s not going away, whatever the results. I mean, right now, people are talking about Standing Rock instead of the so-called elections. Doesn’t matter—who are they? They do the same thing anyway. But Standing Rock makes a difference, I think that’s true.

Revolution: What would you tell people—thousands of people have come through here, there are something like 280 First Nation and Native American tribes that have supported this, over 200 have come out—what would you say to people of the world about why they need to come to Standing Rock and stand with people here?

Tu’ulenana Iuli: I think that people have seen what’s happening here and realized that certain elements within communities are not good for you and your people and your communities, and if you decide to make an effort to ensure their safety or protection, then I think you should take this as a good reason to take those measures. Look towards your community and look at what Standing Rock has done and see that you can create whatever you need to do. That ordinary people, even those with no money, with lack of justice, lack of health, statistically can stand and say, look, we’re going to stand for everybody. And if they can do that, then a lot of people can take a little heart from what they do, in other places.

Revolution: You raise the question, what do we need to do next; what do you think?

Tu’ulenana Iuli: This group over here, look over here, they’re standing, they’re eating, chopping wood together. Half of these people wouldn’t talk to each other two weeks ago, but you put them in this place, they listen to prayers together, they talk to each other, they ask each other politely, excuse me? They’re integrating and that’s great because Standing Rock is here. I came here for two days and for three nights. There is this love thing that goes on because you get attached to the magnetism of this.

Everybody knows that they’re going to tell the story of this place and how it affected them to whomever they love. I’m just one of the many thousands who have come through. I think I sort of see, it’s kind of like a Woodstock of that time. ’Cause I wasn’t there, but people talk about how, yeah, I was there. But this is different, totally different. The movement, the timing, doesn’t that say something about the second generation? This was expected.

Funny, as I spoke before about the elections, it’s funny how they play themselves out to be quite a theater show. If they came out looking at this, this is quite serious in comparison. This is something ordinary people want to see. Ordinary people want to stand here. They never met each other before but they don’t care about no theater. They stand in front of the barricade, they look at soldiers—armed soldiers—they put their hands up, saying the same words: Mni wiconi! (Water is Life!). Being here, you feel it.

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