Meet the Native American Youth Who Ran Across the Country to Protect Their People

Anna is only 13 years old, but she’s not afraid to take on enemies much bigger than her. She is one of the 30 Native American runners who recently ran from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to deliver 160,000 signatures demanding a stop to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The bravery and tenacity of Anna, and her fellow runners, is paying off as celebrities like Shailene Woodley, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rosario Dawson, Riley Keough, and Ezra Miller all add their voices to the movement to stop the pipeline.

The stakes are high for them; the pipeline is set to cross the Missouri River just a mile away from their reservation, threatening their drinking water and the center of community life.

Pipelines leak so often in North Dakota that activists say that it’s not a matter of if the Dakota Access will leak, but when. Oil in their drinking water could take months to clean up and would kill off important plant and animal species living near the river.

But what fuels their outrage even more than the threat to their environment is the feeling that no one seemed to care.

“With such a high chance that this pipeline will leak, I can only guess that the oil industry keeps pushing for it because they don’t care about our health and safety,” says Anna in her petition. “It’s like they think our lives are more expendable than others’.”

Speaking with Anna and the other runners, it’s clear that the petition is helping to combat the feeling that no one cares. Since they began their campaign in May, over 174,000 people from around the world have signed it, in addition to a long list of celebrities.

Shailene Woodley and Ezra Miller have visited the runners multiple times, Rosario Dawson spoke out at a rally for the campaign in New York City, and actress Riley Keough joined them to protest in front of the White House.

Actress Riley Keough poses with runners Jasilyn Charger (right) and Jasilea Rose Charger (left) during a break in marching.

Actress Riley Keough poses with runners Jasilyn Charger (right) and Jasilea Rose Charger (left) during a break in marching.

In addition to Keough, the runners were joined by Woodley and 150 people marching in D.C., calling on President Obama to pressure the Army Corps to reverse the permit they granted late July for construction of the pipeline. For five hours, members of Standing Rock and other tribes lead a prayer song while participants chanted “We run! For water! For life! We run! For our people! For one nation! We run!” and “Mni wiconi,” Lakota for “water is life.”

Now after three weeks on the road, the runners have returned to North Dakota where pipeline construction is set to begin. Activists have set up camp near the site and are using their bodies to block the construction. So far, at least 12 people have been arrested and participants have expressed that they will stay out at the camp until the pipeline is defeated. Until then, they wait.