Blog, Business Edge, Communicators Network, Community News

Traditions Tie Generations Together

Building a strong nation with hope and spiritWhile researching for communication technology articles I discovered an article about young people using social media as a force for good within their national community and their own ancestral culture (Elbien). Social media has been a game changing technology for many people around the world. Ruth McCambridge describes social media as a fundamental part of nonprofit survival (Cambridge), Farhad Manjoo depicts social media as a prime way for people to protest against Trump (Manjoo) and Saul Elbein showcases social media being used in a unique way by Native American Youths (Elbein).

Social Media as a Tool

The use of social media by Native American youths helped to create “The Oceti Sakowin Camp: a first of its kind historic gathering of Indigenous Nations.” The cultural voice once lost was refound during the encampment (Fang “Recording” 147). As reported by Elbein, Native American youths used social media when contesting the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015 and used it again in 2016 to contest the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Cheyenne River Reservation (Elbein). As stated on the Dakota Access Pipeline Facts website, “eight pipelines currently cross under Lake Oahe, many near the surface. The Dakota Access Pipeline will be 95-115 feet underground. And use a path similar to, but much farther underground than a pipeline pair that has been operating for almost 35 years” (Dakota). The website also states, “The Dakota Access Pipeline is the safest and most environmentally sensitive way to transport crude oil from domestic wells to American consumers. We have great respect for the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and plan to continue to work with their leaders to address those concerns” (Dakota).

Elbein continues to explain how the use of social media actually served two different purposes for the Native American youth. The first purpose was for outward activism to protect their homeland and our planet earth from oil pipelines contaminating natural water sources (Elbein). This activism was in direct compliance with the First Amendment which provides all citizens with the right “…to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance” (Schrag and Funkhouser 30). The second purpose was not intentional and was only realized by “Jasilyn Charger, Joseph White Eyes and a few ‘One Mind’ teenagers and mentors” as time went by during their stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline. “The message was clear: The struggle against the pipeline was part of the same struggle against alcoholism, suicide and abuse” (Elbein). These social struggles created a divided and self-destructive community. Just as the use of the printing press helped to create the middle class and create a literate community (Fang, “Early” 42); social media turned out to be a lifesaving tool by bringing together a broken community and building family ties from the inside out (Elbein). This “war cry” against the Dakota Pipeline has become an economic and social movement unifying the indigenous population by encouraging native unity.

Leading Cause of Death

Suicide is a topic that touches me personally and one that demands attention. Suicide is currently “the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Each year 44, 193 Americans die by suicide. Suicide costs the United States $44 Billion annually. On average, there are 121 suicides per day. In 2015, the highest U.S. suicide rate (15,1) was among Whites and the second highest rate (12.6) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives” (American). I have personally spoken with many people who have attempted suicide, and I have lost a dear friend who chose to end his life. Suicide is a silent killer, and we need to provide those suffering from a lack of voice a safe place to heal. These statistics reveal the important work Charger and her associates have begun for the indigenous communities.

Traditions Tie Generations Together

Another way Charger brought her broken communities together was through a long-distance 500-mile relay race that used the traditional method of a messenger running a short distance and passing the message or item to another messenger who was waiting to take the runner’s place. These runners were delivering a message to the Army Corps of Engineers who were the main gatekeepers of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This run included “someone from each of the nine Oceti Sakowin bands” (Elbein). “The Indigenous Environmental Network (I.E.N.) began a social-media campaign announcing the run and organized a blitz of calls and letters from tribal members on various reservations” (Elbein). This reminds me of “The most famous Greek messenger we know of, Pheidippides, [who] ran so hard to report the victory at Marathon that he collapsed and died uttering the message ‘Nike!’ (“Victory!”)” (Fang, “Mail” 89). This run initiated a sense of civic pride and duty towards the survival of indigenous life.

Safe Place

The need within this example was to bring Native American youth together in a safe place to thrive, no longer suicide [preferred terminology of “commit” suicide is suicide] (Caruso) and stand together while fighting for a clean water source, uncontaminated by another oil pipeline. “For Charger and other leaders, as important as the idea of the safe space was the idea that activism would teach children the skills to survive more immediate threats, like bullying and drug abuse” (Elbein). This “war cry” against the pipeline became a “life song” encompassing the rhythm of daily indigenous life. As New York Tribune’s editor Horace Greeley controlled the flow of information through his newspaper to readers, Charger used social media to control the flow of information to her followers (Fang, “Mass” 65). The vitality of her message was felt throughout the world once reporters arrived and began sharing stories and pictures of the events unfolding at Standing Rock (Fang, “Mass” 66). Her voice quickly went quiet nationally when the reporters departed. Her voice is but a whisper now and can only be heard through the websites and social media accounts which she controls. Just as Joseph Pulitzer “crusaded for a number of serious liberal causes…” Charger crusaded for environmental and human causes (Fang, “Mass” 67). She was trying to save the very lives of her fellow native American brothers and sisters from suicide and oil contaminated water.

The Process Model

The creators were Charger, White Eyes and a few “One Mind” teenagers and mentors. They created social media accounts with the main purpose of spreading information about the oil pipeline crisis situations on or near tribal homelands, bringing together scattered Native American youth, and building a strong tribal community. Primarily the social medium used was Facebook. Charger also used online websites, newspapers, and other social media accounts to convey messages about events at The Oceti Sakowin Camp. Another medium used was face to face communication. By using varying modes of medium Charger was able to create a more cohesive focus and embrace her entire community.

The gatekeepers for the Dakota Access Pipeline included: Facebook algorithms that control how many feeds can be seen and by whom, network providers controlling access to different platforms, and internet access at the physical locations of users. The physical gatekeepers included these: land boundaries, news reporters, Donald Trump, Army Corps, politicians, oil company stakeholders, and Native American elders. “As Donald Trump pushes forward with the Keystone XL and Dakota Access, he will face a movement emboldened by a victory on Dec. 4, 2016, when the Department of the Army denied an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline and directed the Army Corps to consider an alternate route” (Elbein). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website says, “Our men and women are protecting and restoring the Nation’s environment including critical efforts in the Everglades, the Louisiana coast, and along many of our Nation’s major waterways. The Corps is also cleaning sites contaminated with hazardous, toxic or radioactive waste and material in an effort to sustain the environment. Through deeds, not words, we are BUILDING STRONG.” Sadly, “The U.S. Army will grant the final permit for the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline after an order from President Donald Trump to expedite the project despite opposition from Native American tribes and climate activists” (Volcovici). Ironically these gatekeepers are trying to silence the “war cry” of the indigenous people.

The local law enforcement watched social media and tried to contain the activists with violent force. This violence however only “helped recruitment into the regional chapters (of the newly formed International Indigenous Youth Council (I.I.Y.C.)) and Standing Rock” (Elbein). The military was even called in but would not participate in hurting innocent people. Military veterans worked together through social media to join forces with the activists to become human shields against the local police violence and brutality. The creators needed permission from local law enforcement and other stated gatekeepers to access land outside of its territory, and the creators needed resources from the outside to survive [food and supplies]. The entrepreneurs were the creators of Facebook and engineers working on Facebook’s infrastructure. The Market was the internet that channeled Facebook social postings and the use of word of mouth to inform people on reservations throughout the United States of America.


Instead of the traditional way of Native American elders leading their tribes through communication, the youth stepped forward and used virtual social media to build real community for themselves and their elders. The Native American youth began rebuilding alliances, reawakening their traditional ceremonies, and filling the void that violence, drug abuse, alcoholism and unemployment had conceived. Social media brought together thousands of people and provided those within the Oceti Sakowin Camp the opportunity to share traditional songs, ceremonies and words that had been passed down through the generations before written or printed words (Schrag and Funkhouser 27). They began to redefine their very existence with a medium many people use for destructive purposes. The Stand with Standing Rock website demonstrates additional ways this gathering will help Native Americans internally, “The on-reservation camp allowed the tribe to explore longer term ways to meet the needs of the community that is 100% off-the-grid and features Solar & Wind power generation” (Stand). These new ways of communication are empowering the traditional ways of Native Americans.

I was very impressed with how powerful a virtual social media tool can be when used in a positive and productive way. Charger used the tools available to her to bridge a vast cultural gap between her generation and her tribal elders. Through social media, Charger was able to challenge traditional expectations and bring about positive change for her entire nation. The process model enables us to see the varying steps she used with social media from inception to adaptation. The future of social media is not written. Only time will tell how our future needs will dictate what type of social media we will use and how we will use it. Through this example I am encouraged that social media does not need to be viewed as a time waster, but in fact is the very tool people can use to transform their lives, communities, businesses, and futures.


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Accessed 7 February 2017.
Caruso, Kevin. “Stop Saying ‘Committed Suicide.’ Say ‘Died by Suicide’ instead.”, Accessed 7 February 2017.
Dakota Access Pipeline Facts, Accessed 8 February 2017.
Elbein, Saul. “The Youth Group That Launched a Movement at Standing Rock.” The New York Times, 31 January 2017, Accessed 31 January 2017.
Fang, Irving. “Early Printing: Reaching More of Us.” Alphabet to Internet: Media in Our Lives. 3rd. ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2015. 42. Print.
Fang, Irving. “Mail: The Snail that Could.” Alphabet to Internet: Media in Our Lives. 3rd. ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2015. 89. Print.
Fang, Irving. “Mass Printing: Reaching Still More.” Alphabet to Internet: Media in Our Lives. 3rd. ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2015, pp. 65-67. Print.
Fang, Irving. “Recording: Beyoncé Sings Better than Our Sister.” Alphabet to Internet: Media in Our Lives. 3rd. ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2015. 147. Print.
Manjoo, Farhad. “The Alt-Majority: How Social Networks Empowered Mass Protests Against Trump.” The New York Times, 30 January 2017, Accessed 31 January 2017.
McCambridge, Ruth. “Social Media as an Organizational Game Changer.” Nonprofit Quarterly. Winter 2016 ed., 18 January 2017, Accessed 8 February 2017.
“1,000 Lakota Sioux Youth to Descend upon Dakota Pipeline Protest Site.” Native News Online, 3 October 2016, Accessed 8 February 2017.
Schrag, Robert L. and Funkhouser, Edward T., The Process Model: Understanding Communication Technology and the Media. 2nd. ed. Kona Publishing and Media Group, Charlotte, NC. 2016, pp. 27-30.
Stand with Standing Rock, Accessed 31 January 2017.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Accessed 8 February 2017.
Volcovici, Valerie and Scheyder, Ernest. “Controversial Dakota pipeline to go ahead after Army approval.” Reuters, 8 February 2017, Accessed 8 February 2017.

Leave a Reply