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Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig: 'I want to join the fight' against oil pipeline

Wisconsin senior guard Bronson Koenig wants to effect change by protesting with his fellow Native Americans this weekend over the controversial Dakota Access pipeline rather than just speaking out through social media.

Koenig, who joined the ESPN/ABC News podcast Capital Games Thursday, said he wants to be an active participant in the cause.

Koenig, who is from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, will travel to North Dakota from Madison Friday and be with his brother Miles and athletic trainer Clint Parks for a Saturday protest against the pipeline outside of Bismarck, North Dakota.

"I just hope to shed a little light on the issue and bring attention to the issue,'' said Koenig. "My brother asked me 'Do you want to stand with our brothers and sisters and protect the land and water near to our hearts?' I wanted to walk the walk ... My people have been disrespected for the past couple of hundred years.''

The issue has drawn protests outside of the White House earlier this week, which included former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein has also protested the issue and was charged with damaging equipment during a protest last week in North Dakota. She spray painted construction equipment. Her running mate Ajamu Baraka was also there and faces a charges of criminal trespass and mischief.

At issue for Native Americans is the area's drinking water and sacred burial sites.

The Associated Press reported the $3.7 billion, 1,100-mile pipeline project would take crude oil from Bakken shale in North Dakota to Illinois. Tribe members have clashed with security guarding the construction site. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wants a court order to block construction.

"I didn't feel any pressure to go,'' said Koenig. "I wanted to go. The weekend is when I have free time. I want to join the fight.''

Koenig was strong in his comments that the pipeline is breaking a federal law by not consulting with the tribes and alleged that the pipeline was re-routed from a traditionally white area around Bismarck to "right over a Native American reservation.''

The Bismarck Tribune reported last month that an early proposal for the pipeline would have gone over the Missouri River north of Bismarck, but was switched because of the possibility it could damage Bismarck's water supply. The pipeline now would go through a half-mile stretch of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, a potential threat to their water supply.

The paper reported there were other issues such as length of the pipeline and and road crossings by keeping it north, rather than south. A number of homes would have been near its path, as well. But the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says, according to the paper, that the pipeline would cause hazards for its population.

Koenig said there weren't Native American role models in sports growing up for him but did mention the most famous one in Jim Thorpe. He said he wants to help the Native American youth and will continue to speak out on issues as they relate to Native Americans. He was strong in his condemnation of the Washington Redskins nickname.

"It's disrespectful to Native Americans,'' said Koenig. "It would not be allowed for any other race or culture ... It makes me feel disrespected. If you know the origin of the term Redskin it would be offensive to all. If you're not Native American, you can't tell a Native American how to feel.''

Koenig said he has been supported by his Wisconsin teammates and staff to protest this weekend.