By Cara Romero
“Above all, I fight to protect all life; be a voice for all those that can’t speak, and never give up hope.”
Kandi Mossett will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2017 Bioneers Conference.
Kandi Mossett is an Mandan-Hidatsa-Arika warrior mother from the Fort Berthold Reservation in South Dakota. She says she doesn’t fit inside any box or under any label. She says she’s made of circles, that she is a human being. But to the Native and non-Native peoples who come across her message in person or on the frontlines of Standing Rock, Kandi Mossett is a celebrated warrior for taking a stand against the fossil fuel industry and drug and sex trafficking. But she says she’s just a mom and a water protector.
Kandi first joined the Bioneers Indigenous Forum in 2014 when she was invited to present alongside Tom Goldtooth, the Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and co-founder of the Indigenous Forum. As the panel moderator, I didn’t know who she was at the time. “Who’s Kandi Mossett?” I asked Tom just before the program was to start. He pointed to a young woman in shorts and a t-shirt pushing a baby stroller. Just as Kandi was about to go on stage, she quietly whispered to her toddler, “Can you be a good girl and stay with Auntie while I give my talk?” With that, Kandi stepped up on stage, and sat down next to Tom.
Any notions that this unassuming, soft-spoken woman was “just a mom from the rez” among the audience was disabused when Kandi began to share her story. Kandi was prepared with a battle cry from the rez. Kandi silenced the room with first hand accounts of the impact of fracking on her her reservation, the place where she grew up and where she was now raising her young daughter. We were sickened to learn about the toxic chemicals the fossil fuel corporations deliberately spewed into Kandi’s favorite childhood swimming holes and the reservation’s water supply. We cried along with Kandi when she told the story of the fracking dump truck that ran over and killed her dear childhood friend.
Kandi also shared about the indirect effects of fracking on her community. She talked frankly about the underground mafia that provides drugs and traffics Native girls to service fossil industry workers living in temporary “man camps.” And when the men are done using them, these young women –daughters, sisters, mothers– are reduced to “just another missing and murdered Indigenous woman” statistic.
Kandi helped us to truly understand what it feels like to live in the midst of fracking. To the fossil fuel industry, Native peoples living on the reservation are throwaway people. The land left behind after fracking is useless.
Kandi broke our hearts that day. We left her Indigenous Forum presentation that day in collective disbelief and sadness over what she has witnessed in her short lifetime. But along with a deeply disturbing portrait of the devastating impacts of fracking on a community, Kandi also imparted hope. Her courage is contagious.
Less than two years later, Kandi became an international environmental celebrity when she joined the Sacred Stone Camp early in the Standing Rock demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline. Many people are unaware that the #noDAPL movement grew out of a group of Native women who gathered in the spring of 2016 to pray over the pipeline as it came closer and closer to the sacred waters of the Cannonball River.
That summer, thousands of Native Americans from the North America and around the world tuned into Kandi’s Facebook live accounts of what was happening on the ground at Standing Rock. She became a trusted source for people in Indian Country to understand what was going on at Standing Rock minute-by-minute. She asked for prayers and we prayed. She generously left the camp for a few days, along with fellow frontline water protectors, Dallas Goldtooth and Tara Houska, to offer an update on the 2016 Bioneers main stage. The video went viral with over a million views.
When Tom Goldtooth finds a beautiful voice in Indian Country–chances are he’s heard their battle cry and wants the world to hear it with him. When I first joined the Bioneers community, Tom advised me to not just invite “academics” to the Indigenous Forum, but to make sure we included people from the heart of the Rez. Armed with an MA in Environmental Management, Kandi is both and so much more. She is made of infinite circles of life, hope and courage unlike anyone I have ever seen. She’s a warrior mom. Out of all the people I’ve met in my life, she is the most amazing–and like any great leader, she’s so humble.
Come See Kandi At Bioneers 2017!
Join us at the Bioneers annual conference in San Rafael, October 20–22, 2017. Kandi will be back on the main stage Sunday, October 22 to present, “Cultural Resilience to Strengthen Our Communities and Defend the Earth,” where she will share the powerful story of how her North Dakota community is drawing on its cultural resilience to resist fracking in the Fort Berthold oil fields. Through her story, we’ll learn how the re-assertion of tribal sovereignty and revitalization of language and traditional foodways can point the way to a just transition to a clean energy future for all of us.
More About Kandi
Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara), is the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)’s Lead Organizer on its Extreme Energy and Just Transition Campaigns. When she is not fighting to protect water at Standing Rock and testifying before the US Congress on climate issues, Kandi engages in international advocacy, including participation in several UN forums.
Author: Cara Romero (Chemehuevi) is the Bioneers Indigeneity Program Director