Nebi: Abenaki Protest Art

NODAPL Protest Art

JES. Water is Sacred. “No Pipelines” 2017. Marker on paper.

NODAPL Protest Art

Protest art transcends many visual art forms. It can be seen in artwork such as Picasso’s Guernica and Norman Carlberg’s Vietnam war-era photography, as well as murals, street art, banners, signs, posters, and t-shirt graphics. The designs are meant to communicate and to persuade the public to think about important issues. Unlike other art forms, protest art need not require expensive resources like canvas and oil paints. The materials can be as affordable as magic markers and poster board. Protest art can be produced by anyone who is inspired to make a difference in the world. These creative works are often produced by activists involved in social movements, such as “peace symbol” graphics in the anti-war movement of the 1960s and the pink “pussyhats” that were made and worn by women around the United States in the 2017 Women’s March. For Native American people, artmaking itself can be an act of resistance to be shared with the world on social media.


In January 2015, most Americans had no idea what #NODAPL was, because network news programs were not covering the environmental movement going on in South Dakota. #NODAPL became the social media hashtag campaign for the “No Dakota Access Pipeline” movement. According to Dakota Access Pipeline Facts, the movement began when Energy Transfer Partners announced their plan to bring the 1,172-mile-long crude pipeline across the waterways and land of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation peoples and other communities. This was an unlawful action, because these sacred lands and waters are protected under treaty rights laid out in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Video footage on social media showed many examples of police brutality at the protest site, including the use of attack dogs, pepper spray, and rubber bullets fired at peaceful demonstrators known as “Water Protectors.”

Abenaki Protest Art

As stewards of the lands and waterways of N’Dakinna, Abenaki people understood the need to raise awareness for the “Water Protectors” at Standing Rock. They shared social media posts from Water Protectors and the Indigenous Environmental Network, and they created protest art for social media and demonstrations. “No Pipelines” is a work of protest art that was created by the artist JES and posted to his daughter’s Facebook page in September 2016 with the caption “Water is Sacred.” Although JES’s usual art mediums are plant fiber weaving and oil on canvas, he believed marker on canvas was the quickest means to communicate the urgency of the issue and express solidarity with the protestors who were defending the waterway and sacred lands. This contemporary graphic artwork, which makes use of online distribution and outreach through social media to both deliver and receive support, links contemporary Abenaki artist JES to the nationwide “Red Power” movement of the 1960s. 

Today, Vermont’s Abenaki people share regional concerns about contamination of watersheds, wetlands, and lakes by runoff from agricultural lands, sewage treatment plants, and storm sewers, as well as by microplastics from sources like manufacturing and household laundry. 

Works Cited

“Dakota Access Pipeline Facts”. Dakota Access Pipeline Facts. Retrieved 2017-11-09.

“Dakota Access lawsuit dismissed; future challenges possible”. AP NEWS. 2021-06-23. Retrieved 2021-10-23.

Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 at Wikisource.

“FULL Exclusive Report: Dakota Access Pipeline Co. Attacks Native Americans with Dogs & Pepper Spray”. Democracy Now!. Retrieved 2017-11-10.

Ravitz, Jessica. “The sacred land at the center of the Dakota pipeline fight”. CNN. Video by Sara Sidner and Matthew Gannon. Retrieved 2017-11-09.

Service, Amy Dalrymple Forum News. “Pipeline route plan first called for crossing north of Bismarck”. Bismarck Tribune. Retrieved 2017-11-09.

Signals, Source: Digital Smoke (2016-11-21). “Standing Rock protesters hit with water cannon – video”. The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2021-10-23.

Signals, Source: Digital Smoke (2016-11-21). “Standing Rock protesters hit with water cannon – video”. The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2021-10-23.