Based on the chemistry forged by such an insular, one-for-all, all-for-one group, a dressing room in hockey is an incredibly cohesive place. Anecdotally, this often shows up in players’ on-the-record conversation with a media scrum, in which deference to the collective unit comes more naturally than self-promotion and the elevation of the individual over the needs of the many.
The united-we-stand attitude was embodied in the support lent by Dwight King and Jordan Nolan to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose protected lands in North Dakota were under threat by the proposed conclusion of the multi-billion dollar Dakota Access Pipeline that is nearly complete and was expected to pass underneath a stretch of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock’s lands, eliciting major environmental concerns in the event of a leak while raising alarms over land sovereignty and respect towards sacred Sioux grounds.
For context, David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, wrote this in an August editorial published by the New York Times:
Our tribe has opposed the Dakota Access pipeline since we first learned about it in 2014. Although federal law requires the Corps of Engineers to consult with the tribe about its sovereign interests, permits for the project were approved and construction began without meaningful consultation. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation supported more protection of the tribe’s cultural heritage, but the Corps of Engineers and Energy Transfer Partners turned a blind eye to our rights. The first draft of the company’s assessment of the planned route through our treaty and ancestral lands did not even mention our tribe.
The Dakota Access pipeline was fast-tracked from Day 1 using the Nationwide Permit No. 12 process, which grants exemption from environmental reviews required by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by treating the pipeline as a series of small construction sites. And unlike the better-known Keystone XL project, which was finally canceled by the Obama administration last year, the Dakota Access project does not cross an international border — the condition that mandated the more rigorous federal assessment of the Keystone pipeline’s economic justification and environmental impacts.
This led to a standoff between the Standing Rock Sioux, those who have lent support to their cause, including local ranchers and farmers, as well as a collection of U.S. Army veterans, and those whose interests are tied to the pipeline. When local law enforcement drew criticism for using water cannons to disperse crowds in sub-freezing temperatures, as well as rubber bullets and tear gas, more notice was given towards the protests, helping the situation reach a critical mass. On Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not drill underneath a portion of Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River, that passes adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
Last week, King, who is of Métis heritage, wore an I Stand with Standing Rock T-shirt to the Kings’ practice rink, and over the weekend, Nolan, who is of both Ojibwa and Maliseet descent, shared a video on Twitter (located below) that depicts the story of those who would be most affected by a decision to complete the pipeline while giving a voice to those who have joined forces to prevent its construction.
While this is a personal matter to both that spurs discussions of heritage, self-determination and the defiance of both private and governmental influence over culturally significant sites, such support is most tangibly an environmental plea. According to the New York Times, a regular phrase shouted in unison at protests has been “Mni wiconi,” which translates to “Water is life.”
“Obviously you need the earth and mother nature as it is to keep this world going,” King said. “As far as the people’s land and the right to have fresh water, obviously it’s the possibility that they’re worried about that, and that would affect a lot of fresh water, as I read. That provides their livelihood, and that’s not just a small number of people, it’s a pretty big number of people in that area.”
In addition to the environmental concerns, there are also clear aspects of infringement upon “treaty lands and through our ancestral burial grounds,” according to Archambault II.
“I think everybody probably has a different interpretation, but obviously the heritage, and [Native Americans] being put where they’ve been put, being able to call that home now for some time and having that at risk and not knowing the outcome of what could happen is obviously huge on everybody’s mind,” King said. “Not just everybody who’s from there, it’s more of a support system. Like I said, I’m not from the area or anywhere near the area, but if I was put in that situation you’d look around to family and friends to have your support knowing your livelihood won’t be affected in a huge way going forward.”
Both players began following the escalating conflict involving the Standing Rock Sioux over the summer, and as the disputes over the future of the pipeline grew, so did their support of the cause. When tensions surrounding the protests escalated in recent weeks, those observing from afar found parallels in their own backgrounds.
“I think it’s definitely pretty scary for the people that are there,” Nolan said. “[They] probably had a lot of flashbacks for our elders who have gone through some bad things in their life, and their ancestors. It probably didn’t leave a good taste in our peoples’ mouth and probably affected a lot of people and hurt a lot of people and I think it definitely brought a lot of attention to what our people have gone through in the past. So it’s definitely brought a lot of attention to it, but it’s a lot of good attention and it’s only going to get better, I think.”
Mainstream media wasn’t necessarily at the forefront of the daily skirmishes until a growing heat simmered tensions, but videos such as those disseminated by Nolan and social media-circulated reports kept both players abreast as best they could of the latest happenings.
“You’d see it in the news. You didn’t see too much, unfortunately,” Nolan said.
“I know Greener (Matt Greene) was visiting North Dakota [over the summer] and there wasn’t a word about it in the paper there, so to be on Twitter and Instagram and to read about it only helps bring more attention to it.”
Nolan said that were it not for his hockey career, he thinks he would have traveled to North Dakota to share his support. “I think that’s all it is, is showing support for the people that live there and kind of giving them a voice and a platform,” he said. With the announcement that the construction would be halted, for now, there is the validation that people who have supported the cause have had their voices heard.
“I think it just shows that if you stand up for what you believe in and never give up and kind of stay true to who you are and what your people believe in that you’ll have a good outcome and that’s what they did the past few months,” he said. “I mean, people are starting to take a stand with it and people high up and celebrities and congressmen are starting to take a stand for it, so it’s pretty exciting to see.”
There is no guarantee that the construction halt will be upheld. President-elect Donald Trump has voiced his support over the continuation of the project, and aspects of his campaign touched on support, speaking generally, to private sector energy infrastructure projects.
“…Obviously it’s a big project, so the two sides are going to have to figure something out,” King said. “I’m assuming that it won’t go away that easy. As far as the purpose and the protest I think by all means they have the right and they have the support of people around the nation, and that’s important.”
And that’s what makes the unique fabric of a dressing room dynamic so fascinating. Players come from different backgrounds and may individually share differing social and political viewpoints. But together, bound by a common goal, it’s rare to hear a particular opinion espoused apart from the needs of the group. That doesn’t mean that such a voice would be silenced or ostracized.
“I think we tend to take care of each other,” Darryl Sutter said. “At the end of the day, when you look at the big picture, any issues that are related to outside the locker room, we still tend to take care of each other in all those. It’s a tight circle.”
“I’ve always been like that. I don’t know if it’s being from a big family and being out in the middle of nowhere, that sort of thing, but that’s how I still feel. I can get along with [individual beat writers], but when I see it as a group – media, as a group – to me, that’s not my circle. It’s kind of protective. It’s how I am. I’m protective of the group. I’ve always been like that as a player and even moreso as a coach, to support them. It doesn’t mean you always agree or believe, but you support them. That’s what you do.”
Dwight King, on his reaction to Sunday’s announcement:
It’s exciting. Like I said, most of my stuff is on social media. I think the first person I’d seen was Mark Ruffalo with little tidbits. It’s great news obviously. Like I said, I read an article later that they’re still going to try to push forward on the other side. I mean, it’s progress, but I don’t think it’s ending here. But it’s nice to see.
King, on whether the team talks about current events or politics:
Some guys do. Obviously some things hit home a little more with certain people. Most people keep up with the news I think. This one is growing. I don’t think a lot of the people in the room are aware of the situation to say, but some of them are. It’s nice to see.
King, on staying true to his family and background while playing in the NHL:
It’s a little tougher obviously. The lifestyle here is a little different. As far as beliefs and traditions you grew up with, it’s like anybody else. They come around, take big days like holidays, things like that, just kind of knowledge you got from your parents that you can pass along to your kids I think is the biggest. Obviously it’s not day-to-day, kind of routine things that change. As far as in-season, to be honest I’m here to play hockey, so that’s what I’m focusing on. And then when I have the two months I get to go home and enjoy the outdoors and the quietness and just kind of the land.
King, on what he does during summers at home, and whether he hunts:
I don’t hunt. Hunting usually opens up when we come back for deer and elk and all that stuff. I never did hunt, I fished a little bit. My brother, actually, he’s got a resort on the lake, so once in a while I’ll make it up there but most of the time when I grew up I was a horse guy. So that was my pastime. [Reporter: Mountain bike or-?] Yeah, we live on gravel, so transportation was the bike. It was either that or horses or hockey.
King, on his hometown, Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan:
It’s pretty small. 5,000 people, there’s three mills, lot of forestry. We’re far enough north where we get a lot of the wood and then a little bit to the South there’s obviously farming and cattle. So it’s just those three things that kind of drive it and as of right now it’s kind of been that way since I’ve been alive.
King, on whether Meadow Lake is a center point for smaller cities in the area:
I mean, for northern communities it’s bigger. If you go an hour or two north there’s obviously smaller towns and reserves and stuff like that that would come from Meadow Lake as a center. But there’s other cities, too. Like, from Meadow Lake if you want to go look at the biggest city it’d be Saskatoon, that’s about two and a half hours. So, that would be like airport stuff and things like that, big market stuff you’d have to drive to. But as far as grocery stores and stuff like that I’m sure some of those smaller communities drive in.
Jordan Nolan, on the importance of his connection to his heritage:
I’m definitely proud of who I am and where I come from. My dad definitely instilled that in me. So I’ve always been proud of my culture and our people and traditions so to see people take a stand like that and they stand up for what they believe in and their land and their beliefs, that’s definitely important to me and I was right there with me.
Nolan, on the resonance of tradition:
Definitely, my dad’s a pretty traditional guy, his mom was very traditional, our family is traditional. My aunt used to run the pow wows back home before she passed away and everything in our family is pretty traditional and we were from a small, First Nation community, so we’re a pretty tight-knit family. Every local pow wow we would always travel and go visit and see some friends, so it’s definitely pretty powerful what’s going on.