Category: Workshops


Youth Visions of #NoDAPL


By Cathy Cain



The Missouri River near Cannon Ball, North Dakota

In September of 2016, I started going to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to support the water protectors and the #NoDAPL actions. I still wax nostalgic when I smell burning sage; it reminds me of nights where I would stare at the campfire sparks floating sinuously into the darkness while people drummed and sang their prayers for the river.

It was an emotional experience for me, a student of political ecology. One of the things I studied in South Africa as a graduate student was the human and ecological effects of colonial dispossession of land during apartheid. I remember in one of these township communities there was a funeral, where family and community members sang gorgeous elegies for their lost comrade. And it was powerful to hear how, despite generations of oppression and all the social problems that arise from poverty or at least alongside it, people come together to create something beautiful and meaningful to their lives.

Through music and prayer, the #NoDAPL camps embodied that same power, and this was, at one point, central to the movement. Moreover, it was the actions of the indigenous youth that inspired this struggle for water and environmental rights. But all the ensuing political fights and internal struggles would often deafen the voices of these youth. This is why it was so important for the Babel Project to go back to Standing Rock and try to preserve their stories after the camps closed.

In June of 2017, filmmaker Alice Obar and I went to the reservation to collaborate with several youth from Cannon Ball and Fort Yates, North Dakota to make films about their stories of #NoDAPL. While taking residence in these communities, we did not fail to experience the sense of community and warmth that I grew to appreciate at Oceti Sakowin and Sacred Stone camps. We learned so much from the youth in the process, such as the continuing struggles of their communities against: a.) exploitative oil companies like Energy Transfer Partners; b.) longstanding social problems like drug and alcohol abuse; and c.) the ubiquitous epidemics of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. Their personal connections to these struggles made their stories so rich and complex.

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From left to right: Tyrel Iron Eyes, Aliya Eagle, and Gracie White Eagle

Tyrel offered so much insight into what it was like growing up a Native American and facing the overt racism of white dominant North Dakota communities. He talks about what it’s like not to be able to walk away once the protest is over.

For Aliya, the camps were a transformative experience that helped her face her own depression, an illness that so many native youth her age encounter.

Gracie has such strong emotional connections to the #NoDAPL camps, as well as to the animals and wildlife of her ancestral lands that she feels are under threat because of the pipeline. In her story, she talks about how #NoDAPL was formative to her becoming a youth activist, but also how she wished that there were more Standing Rock youth who wanted to be active. Her eyes lit up when she brought up the river.

While Gracie was the only youth to complete her film, the others still did such important work that we want to showcase on We are so proud of their work and the people they are.

As we watched our last sunset at Standing Rock, and the prairie winds undulated through the ocean of grass, we recounted the pulsating drums at a powwow we attended, the sweet smell of frybread, and the meals and stories local people shared with us. Having finished the workshop, we knew we were leaving a sacred place of paradox where struggle and nurture feud next to a river that brings forth and takes away; a river where a people’s hopes are anchored by the visions of their youth.


Cannon Ball, North Dakota


Papers or no papers, we stick together.

I was first introduced to Make the Road in 2009 during an ‘Urbanization and Citizenship’ class at NYU. My professor cited the organization as an example of why we need activists working at a policy level and at a grassroots level to create change.

Throughout my academic and professional career, I find myself constantly returning to the power of this concept:

When we engage our community at the top to collaborate with authority and policy work, and organize our people on the ground to incite action among our peers…we are unstoppable.

So when I had the chance to meet with activists from Make the Road’s Flushing, Queens site this past October, I was eager to collaborate and offer them a way to add filmmaking and storytelling as another set of tools for their organizing work.

Along with my coteacher, Paola Piers-Torres, we ran a six month guerilla style youth filmmaking workshop with three creative, committed and intelligent young ladies: Perla Lopez, Beblin Pereira and Sara Ladino.

We worked in any spaces we could find (hallways, shared offices, restaurants, outside in the bitter New York winter), and spent weekends and weeknights filming all over the city.

From that process, our students created three short films that allow you into their homes, their hearts and their incredibly beautiful and complicated stories.

Make the Road will be using our films to educate New York City public school students on immigration policy and reform, and help humanize their organizing work.

I have learned so much from these three young ladies.

Perla reaffirmed for me just how resilient the human spirit is, Beblin taught me the importance of self care and sillyness :), and Sara reminded me that as long as you have your purpose, you have everything.

I am so proud to call these ladies my friends, and I can’t wait to work together again this summer to create more meaningful work.

No matter what our status is, papers or no papers, we stick together.

Please check out their work and visit The Babel Project’s website to learn more about how you can help us continue our Project.

Perla Lopez: I am a Dreamer: Undocumented and Unafraid
Beblin Pereira: Majadito: Keeping My Culture Alive
Sara Ladino: Life’s Travail


The Babel Project in The West Bank!

We’re so excited to announce that we have a new partner! The Babel Project will be working with Al Rowwad Centre for Culture and Arts (based in Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem) this summer. We had the privilege of meeting face to face with the organization’s director and some of the students we’ll be working with a few weeks ago during a research trip to the West Bank.

Look out for a short video documenting the trip and a fundraising campaign that will allow us to support young Palestinians in sharing a different narrative about their lives than the ones we see in Western media. We hope that you’ll be a part of this new adventure!