Have you ever had something move you so profoundly that it engrosses your entire being? That is what the Water Protectors of Standing Rock have done for me. After months of watching events unfold in Cannon Ball, my husband and I decided that we could no longer sit idly while the biggest fight for environmental & human rights of our lifetime was being fought. I proposed the idea of driving to Standing Rock to help with the camp and two days later, we made the 12 hours drive with our baby and our dog.
The standoff at Standing Rock is an age old story of colonialism. But after 500 years of systemic oppression, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe decided enough was enough and took on the fight to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. The DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) is a $3.7 billion oil pipeline that would carry about 470,000 gallons of crude oil daily through four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux argue that the pipeline’s planned route to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe (the tribe’s main source of drinking water) will be compromised in the event of an oil leak. They also argue that the pipeline goes through miles of land which rightfully belongs to the tribe. Officials from Energy Transfer Partners (the company behind the pipeline) claim that the pipeline is safe and does not encroach on native lands.
- The pipeline encroaches on land granted to the Sioux by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868… this treaty was violated by the US government just a few years later because… dun dun dun gold was discovered in the Black Hills.
- The Army Corps of Engineers approved the pipeline despite objections by three government agencies including the EPA. “Crossings of the Missouri River have the potential to affect the primary source of drinking water for much of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tribal nations,” Philip Strobel, National Environmental Policy Act regional compliance director for the EPA, wrote in a March 11 letter to the Army Corps.” The full document can be found here.
- The DAPL was originally routed to cross the Missouri River north of Bismark. This route was rejected because the citizens of Bismark, a predominantly white town, expressed concern for its potential threat to their water supply. Oh the irony. You can read more about the original route here.
On the drive to Standing Rock, I was unsure what to expect. Reports of clashes between the water protectors and militarized police monopolized my social media feeds. Temperatures were beginning to drop and it happened to be our very first camping occasion as a family. What was I thinking bringing my baby here? As we pulled up to camp, countless banners led the way to the entrance: “no weapons or drugs allowed; mni wikoni – water is life; WE ARE UNARMED.” For some reason, these banners quelled my worries.
When we found a spot to set up camp, we were greeted by warm campfire lit smiles of our would be neighbors. One lady told me that the tent next to ours was vacant, left by a friend of hers in case someone was in need of shelter. By the time Mitz finished setting up our tent, the sun had set so we made our way around the camp to observe our surroundings. Drums, chants and singing filled the air. People were gathered arround campfires listening to stories or up on their feet dancing like noone was watching. Our exploration was short due to exhaustion from the drive. We decided to call it a night early in preparation for the next day. That night was cold albeit bearable. What stood out was the constant sound of a helicopter flying over head. This went on all night. I learned the next day that this was a nightly experience, they were being monitored by law enforcment despite the area being a no fly zone.
We started the next day with a quick breakfast followed by a drum march to the river. There, elders led a prayer and people waited patiently in line to bless the water. An action in Bismark was scheduled that morning. We missed the caravan by a few minutes so we decided to stay behind and help with winterizing the camp. While walking around, I was so impressed by how self sufficient the camp had become. Day in and out, volunteers worked the kitchen to provide lunch and dinner for everyone in need. At another tent, blankets, jackets, and other supplies were sorted free for anyone lacking. By the Sacred Fire, a ceremonial fire at the center of the camp that people kept burning day and night, people of different races and ages converged to listen to elders speak, pray, and partake in ceremonies.
I have never felt a sense of unity more than I have during our time at the Oceti Sakowin Camp. There, no one was rich, or poor – just part of the collective working together with one purpose in mind: to protect the water from the pipeline for us and future generations.
By the Sacred Fire, we met a fellow Filipina from San Francisco. She arrived that morning accompanied by a group called “White Allies” to deliver raised funds and very much needed winter coats to the camp. Her time there, like ours, was brief as she had to be back for parent teacher conferences come Monday. When I asked her why it was so important that she personally came, she said it was because there was no way she could justify not helping to her children.
At the media tent –you need to be press to be able to photograph or video inside camp– I spoke briefly with a man who was handling press badge requests. He had been there for weeks already having left his job and sold his home in Georgia to be there with the Water Protectors. When I asked how long he had planned on being there for, he simply said “as long as it takes.”
There is a woman named Diane Hart who made the 2000 mile drive from California to North Dakota. She runs “Grandma’s Kitchen” – a tent that serves two meals a day to hungry water protectors. She said her heart was drawn there and she had hoped that her presence makes a difference. At the end of the buffet line, she waits to greet every person served and gives them the type of embrace only a grandmother full of love can offer.
Every day, they organize actions-mass ceremonies, prayers, and marches to the front line where police await. Direct action orientations are held daily. They emphasize that all actions must be peaceful and encourage the water protectors to pray for the opposition.
Over the past few weeks, the camp has been in rush mode to prepare for the North Dakota rush winter. Last Sunday, tensions over the Dakota Access oil pipeline flared again Sunday when the police department used water cannons to disperse a group of about 400 protesters trying to move past a barricaded bridge toward construction sites for the project. With temperatures below freezing, the water protectors were sprayed via a water canon on top of an armored vehicle. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades were reportedly used. Many were treated for hypothermia and one young girl now faces losing her arm after she claimed law enforcement threw a concussion grenade right at her. Days later, on November 25th, the Army Corps of Engineers served the camp with a notice to vacate by December 5th or risk facing arrests citing public safety concerns.
Yesterday, the International Indigenous Youth Council along with the tribal elders held a press conference imploring President Obama to honor the promise he made to protect the tribe a few years prior. Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II also stated that the tribes concerned with the pipeline are staying strong.
What You Can Do
Sign the petition to stop the pipeline on Change.org:
Send supplies for the water protectors. You can find a list of their needs here.
Donate directly to the camp here. Funds will be used for sanitary, supplies, and emergency purposes.
Donate to the protesters legal defense here.
Call the Governor of North Dakota and voice your opposition: 701-328-2200
Call the North Dakota Army Corps of Engineers who granted the permit for the pipeline: 202-761-5903
Divest your money from the banks funding the pipeline. A list can be found here.
Go to Standing Rock! More than ever, they need people with special skills (legal, medical, carpentry, etc), bodies to stand in solidarity, and voices and prayers.
Keep the conversation going. Familiarize yourself with the events going on at Standing Rock. Talk to your friends and family about it. Don’t let the conversation die down.