Faces of Change: Terrell Catt Iron Shell

The Dakota Access Pipeline project (DAPL) has been a major presence in the foreground of Native issues this past year, calling attention to treaty obligations, water and land rights, sacred sites, unsustainable development and environmental racism. The multitude of concerns illuminated by DAPL has brought together Indigenous people and allies from across the world to join in solidarity with the tribe at the center of the resistance to the pipeline project, the Standing Rock Sioux.

Near Cannonball, North Dakota, an encampment––known as the Oceti Sakowin Camp––has been a gathering point for indigenous nations whose own communities often have had similar grievances with exploitation from development projects. Allies in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe also joined the camp on and off throughout the last year to stand in solidarity against the pipeline, with numbers in the camp swelling to over ten thousand at times. The momentum of the action against the Dakota Access Pipeline created a rallying point for an entire movement concerning the future of sustainable development in not just Indian Country, but the whole world.

Out of this movement, numerous groups have formed with the goal of working together to make positive change. One of those groups is the International Indigenous Youth Council. Terrell Catt-Iron Shell, a Former Thunder Valley CDC Workforce Development participant, is a member of this council. “We call ourselves the International Indigenous Youth Council because we’ve had Indigenous people from many walks of life take part in the council,” he says. “This council is a good opportunity for us all to learn what it means to step into a leadership role.”

Also members of the IIYC are Terrell's sister, Andreanne (above), and brother, Phillip (below, right), both of which were previously participants in programs at Thunder Valley CDC. The siblings have been active in everything from the #NoDAPL movement to the Women's March in Washington D.C., working constantly to coordinate efforts that make the concerns of Indigenous youth heard by everyone, from politicians to developers. As is listed on their Facebook page, the IIYC organizes to “protect land, water and treaty rights, end environmental racism, empower youth in tradition and rise as leaders in Indian Country.” These priorities have not come out of solely the IIYC’s experience at the Oceti Sakowin Camp, but from the the Council’s desire to address the ongoing exploitation of Indigenous people & lands worldwide.  

“I’m 23 now, but I’ve been fighting oil pipelines for years. I was arrested in 2013 with my father for blockading a megaload trucks that were carrying equipment for the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

The Keystone XL pipeline, vetoed by President Obama, has now been brought back into existence after the latest Presidential administration has taken action to move both it and the Dakota Access Pipeline forward. However, there is national resistance to reviving both projects and the IIYC is part of that resistance. Despite the challenges ahead, Terrell remains dedicated to the mission of the IIYC and expresses the importance of faith in this work to protect the sacred.

"A spiritual grounding is one of the things that helps keep me calm," Terrell explains. “It’s important that we hold on to our culture and keep ourselves connected to that spiritual umbilical cord that keeps us connected to Mother Earth.”

The siblings' father, Andrew Catt Iron Shell, says that the connectedness Terrell expresses encompasses everything that his kids are standing up for as young leaders. “There is a common thread in all of these issues we are facing.  The rights of the Earth are connected to the rights of women, which are in turn connected to the rights of Indigenous peoples, and so on. When profit is the only end goal, everything becomes a resource for exploitation, so successfully addressing any one of these issues is first is recognizing how they’re all connected."

You can follow the International Indigenous Youth Council on Facebook and on Twitter.