Greta Thunberg, favourite to win Nobel peace prize, honoured at Standing Rock

Oliver Milman in New York
Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Greta Thunberg has been honoured by tribal leaders at Standing Rock in North Dakota, the scene of fierce environmental protests, as the teenage climate activist became odds-on favourite for another garland – the Nobel peace prize.

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Thunberg has been visiting Native American activists who have opposed the Dakota Access pipeline, a major oil project they say will contaminate their drinking water. The Standing Rock Sioux reservation was the scene of a major protest encampment that was dispersed following a severe police crackdown in 2017.

Tokata Iron Eyes, an environmental activist, invited Thunberg, a fellow 16-year-old, to her homelands on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, after befriending her. On Tuesday the duo spoke at the Standing Rock high school about the burgeoning youth-led climate movement that has seen millions of people strike from school and protest against fossil-fuel projects around the world.

“This is a global fight; this is not just in my home country in Sweden,” Thunberg said. “We as teenagers shouldn’t be the ones taking responsibility. It should be the ones in power.”

Iron Eyes said that indigenous culture was inherently linked to the health of the environment. “No 16-year-old should have to travel the world in the first place sharing a message about having something as simple as clean water and fresh air to breathe,” she said.

In a closing ceremony, Thunberg was gifted with a Lakota Native American name, Maphiyata echiyatan hin win, which translates as “woman who came from the heavens”.

Thunberg with Iron Eyes at an event on the Pine Ridge reservation. Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Thunberg has also become the favourite with British betting companies to receive this year’s Nobel. She is considered the most likely winner of the peace prize, to be awarded on Friday, ahead of the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, indigenous Brazilian leader Raoni Metuktire and Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand.

The prize would cap an extraordinary past year for Thunberg, which began with her making solo protests against inaction by the Swedish government on the climate crisis. Her stand her morphed into a mass global movement, with students around the world skipping school on Fridays to call for leaders to do more to address the crisis.

North Dakota is the latest, plane-free, trip taken by Thunberg since she arrived in the US in September on a solar-powered yacht. Last month she addressed the United Nations in New York, telling world leaders: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”