A few weeks ago, Kevin Koehler, the guitarist for iLLPHONiCS watched his friend Monkh Horrell enter the glass-walled studio and performance space at the Gaslight Lounge. As Horrell and his band Monkh and the People began to play, Koehler was stuck by how his friend used his musical talent to fight for the environment.
Koehler also performed that night during the STL Rocks for Standing Rock, an event they organized. They donated proceeds from the show directly to the tribe, which is leading the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
On Wednesday, Koehler will release a recording of the concert to benefit the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council. For Koehler, it’s urgent that artists and others support the North Dakota protesters.
“There’s no sitting down on this issue right now,” Kohler said. “If you believe in human rights and you believe in the right to clean water you should be supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”
Koehler became aware of the protestors shortly after they captured public attention this spring. He had been interested in exploring environmental protection activism through his music for some time and this summer launched the Environmental Music & Arts Project (eMAP) in St. Louis to develop programing that unites those passions. On Nov. 6, eMAP held the Concert for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Performers included singer Loren D., electronic composer Eric Hall, FIRE DOG, Koehler’s Obviously Offbeat project and others.
The planned $3.8 billion pipeline by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners would pass underneath the Missouri River within a mile of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The Standing Rock Tribe is protesting the pipeline on the grounds that it would disturb sacred sites, infringe on tribal sovereignty, and could contaminate its water supply and water supplies downstream. For more than seven months, members of the tribe have been joined by protesters from around the country.
Just over a week ago, a county sheriff’s department doused protesters with water and tear gas at night while temperatures dropped below freezing. Since then, Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued an evacuation order of the area, citing harsh weather conditions.
Hearing about such tactics strengthened Koehler’s commitment to supporting the protest efforts. He intends to donate all proceeds to the camp’s medics.
“I want to raise money to continue helping the people that are really risking their lives out there,” he said. “What we’ve seen in the past week or week and a half has - it’s become apparent that it’s becoming like a battlefield and it’s really sad.”
Rapper Rockwell Knuckles, who performed at the Nov. 6 show with Aloha Mi'sho as The Knuckles and whose song "Laundromat" appears on the release, pointed to the police response and the problematic history between the U.S. government and Native Americans as reasons to support the tribe and its allies.
“These government officials are beating, abusing, pepper spraying indigenous people of this land,” he said. “I feel like the indigenous people of this land have been browbeaten and hurt enough.”
For Knuckles, the protesters are exercising the right to free speech and the right to assemble — their only way to make their voices heard.
“They’re trying to kinda step in the way of big business in a very polite, civil way,” Knuckles said. “All they can do is step in the way.”
Like Koehler, he believes the Standing Rock protestors’ efforts will protect water resources downstream from the pipeline.
“It’s all connected. That’s why you have active people here who relate to Standing Rock,” Knuckles said. “They don’t’ want those people’s water to be poisoned so we end up dealing with that same … here.”
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