The Sioux are groups of Native American tribes in North America. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with the Hunkpapa and Lakota bands, is part of the Great Sioux Nation. In 1868 the lands of the Great Sioux Nation were reduced in the Fort Laramie Treaty to the east side of the Missouri River and the state line of South Dakota in the west. The last major armed conflict between the US and the Sioux, the massacre at Wounded Knee, occured on December 29, 1890, in South Dakota.
My commitment to stopping fossil fuel infrastructure throughout the country made it imperative that I visit Standing Rock, North Dakota, and observe firsthand how organizations like mine could support indigenous water protectors in their struggle to preserve their ancestral lands from the encroaching oil pipeline project known as the Dakota Access pipeline, or DAPL. Working in New Mexico to keep Chaco Canyon safe from drilling & fracking, I was able to speak with Navajo and other Native people who had been to Standing Rock and were in close contact with the Sioux leaders there. After quick preparations, I arrived with a volunteer in Bismarck on November 7, and we headed to the resistance camps.
After being stopped and rerouted multiple times by law enforcement, we arrived at Oceti Sakowin (Oh-chet-ee Sock-o-ween), one of at least five camps in the area, where we were greeted warmly. We could see the Missouri River to the north, and the site where, just days earlier, another camp had been forcibly dismantled by police, leading to 141 arrests of peaceful defenders. To the south was the Cannon Ball River and the Rosebud Camp. Sacred Stone Camp was to the east.
We learned that an orientation meeting was held every morning for newcomers. We were briefed on camp customs and expectations. Oceti Sakowin was a prayer camp. No alcohol, firearms or aggressive behavior would be tolerated. The purpose of the camp is to pray for all, including the police and indigenous peoples, throughout the world. Everyone works: chopping wood, peeling potatoes, cleaning dishes, building structures, sorting clothing. Specialized skills are greatly in need: medical personnel, mental health counselors, musicians, teachers. There is a tipi that serves as a school for children. The camp is a spontaneous, organic city grown out of the resolve of the Standing Rock Sioux to protect their sacred lands and prevent their air and water from being fouled by corporate fossil fuel offenders.
There are more than ten different kitchens at the camps, and donated food is shared among all. Truckloads of food roll in every day and are quickly unloaded. No hungry person is turned away. Nearby, building materials and firewood arrive regularly. And people arrive constantly. Some, like me, stay a few days. Some stay longer. All are welcome, so long as they honor the customs of a Lakota prayer camp. Currently, there are anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 individuals at the camps at a given time. As temperatures drop, these numbers may fall. More are encouraged to come.
Before heading to Standing Rock, I was asked to bring safety glasses, facemasks and earplugs--the water protectors expected more confrontation, more pepper spray, more aggression from police. I delivered them to the medic tent. And last night, on November 20, the water protectors were met with intense violence: law enforcement units used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators in below-freezing temperatures. Some individuals were seriously injured.
The peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock need our support and solidarity now more then ever.
Officially there’s a no-fly zone over the camps, but military planes fly over constantly surveilling the location. As sun goes down each night, bright lights are shined down on the camps, as people participate in prayer circles.
Cellular telephone and internet service are largely non-existent. But up on a nearby hill, known as Facebook Hill, service can often be found, and reports from the front lines of this resistance can be made to the world. There’s a media tent and a legal tent nearby as well. Many volunteer attorneys are lending skills to assist those who are arrested. They are also raising funds to help pay fines and claim impounded vehicles. All are urged to give to this critical effort.
North Dakota is beautiful; agriculture, rolling hills, blue skies and grazing cattle. In my short time at Standing Rock, I gained a real reverence for what I believe is and will be an historic event. The Dakota Access resistance has become an iconic fight for the rights of indigenous people worldwide. Clean water is a human right and no entity, government or corporation, has the right to threaten it.