NOTE: This is not a news article, this a blog entry. The opinions expressed here are simply that, opinions. The information relayed here was collected first-hand on-site from individual people at Oceti Sakowin Camp.
As some of you may know, Lynsey G. and I recently traveled to Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock Indian Reservation from October 29th to November 3rd. We went to donate some supplies and offer assistance where we could as well as to do some firsthand investigating as press into what’s really happening there. As we all know, big media is too often synonymous with big agenda. The most trusted source of information we all have is our own two eyes and our own two ears. For many getting up and going to things like this to see what’s really happening, for one reason or another, just isn’t possible. For us it was possible, so we went. We packed up and left our home in Missoula, MT, and made the 13-hour drive to Cannon Ball, ND.
Having read so much about it from different sides with different slants, we didn’t really know what to expect. Would we see people praying, or throwing rocks and lighting fires, or both? From everything we saw and everyone we spoke with, the first of those three was categorically true. The only mentions of violence throughout the camp were signs peppering the main drag reminding everyone that “violence will not help here, we are peaceful, we are protectors not protesters.” That sentiment was carried by everyone we spoke to both on and off the record. This sentiment of love, community, and peace rang true everywhere we looked, despite the fact that opposition in favor of the pipeline seems to have taken the opposite stance. Many victims of brutality recounted being shot with rubber bullets and bean bag guns, sprayed with mace, tackled, zip-tied tight enough to cut off circulation, strip-searched, and thrown into dog kennels for holding at the jail. In addition to the countless videos circulating the internet, we’ve seen many wounds, bruises, and scars that corroborate these tales firsthand.
The most recent of such acts took place on Thursday, October 27th, just before we arrived, when a camp of peaceful protesters was violently raided while in prayer. Sage Robertson’s arm four days after his arrest on Oct 27th still bears his faded arrest number and the badge number of the arresting officer, as well as the cuts on his wrist from the tight zip-ties he was restrained with after being thrown to the ground on his belly. Sage had locked arms in prayer with the elders and others who were at the Direct Action that day. He supposed locking arms while in prayer was what instigated his arrest.
Burnt-out vehicles and a lighting rig in the middle of a bridge separating the Pro-DAPL and #NoDAPL sides of Highway 1806 tell a volatile tale of unrest. While quite a few have blamed protesters for this destruction of property, all of the eyewitnesses I was able to talk to assured me that the fire was ignited by a small object like a flash grenade that was thrown under the trucks from behind a police barricade on the Pro-DAPL side. “You could see when one of them threw something. It rolled under the trucks and it was like a flash. They started the fire. The bridge was our path to direct actions; we didn’t want it blocked,” an unnamed Water Protector told us. Could the fires have been lit by private security or an employee of DAPL? I wasn’t there at the time, so I can’t say for sure what happened there, but consider these facts: The specific placement of those burnt-out trucks obstructs the Water Protectors’ view of the security barricade right behind them, but does not obstruct the security barricades’ view of Protectors approaching from the other side, which is uphill. The burnt-out trucks being there are blocking the Water Protectors and prayer leaders from where they want to be. The Water Protectors have been painfully careful to remain nonviolent, even when violence is being enacted upon them. The trucks themselves are incinerated from their undercarriages, not likely caused by a fire lit with matches but rather some sort of incendiary.
Many in camp have good reason to be wary of newcomers who may be profiteers or even moles sent to either find out and report back information about upcoming direct actions, or even worse the idea that a mole may incite violence at a peaceful direct action, damaging their cause. Yet still there is a peace throughout the camp even for a newcomer. At best people take to you with open arms and warm greetings, at worst some might mildly dismiss you. Rarely if ever have I been amidst such a large group of people working so hard to keep each others’ hopes and spirits up.
“The media tries to dehumanize us, but when we have beautiful art, it shows our humanity. Art shows the heart of a human,” says Francisco Ormaza, a student who has taken the reigns on the camp’s art tent. With the notion that art is a powerful tool for any resistance. Francisco is proud of the work he is helping to make with the assistance of other volunteers, from silk-screened shirts and patches to painted signs and banners, all of which he hands out for free to the Water Protectors to take with them during direct actions.
What many people already know about the situation at Standing Rock is that the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has its course set to run through unceded land of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and run dangerously close along Cannon Ball River and the current border of the reservation, and then cross under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. What many people haven’t considered is that the Missouri also feeds into the Mississippi and the entire surrounding watersheds of the inland states to the south. These pipelines don’t exactly have a great track record; to many it is less a question of if it will leak and more a question of when and how often. This article from The Huffington Post shows a map of the pipeline’s trajectory and the waterways it could effect: A #NoDAPL Map. The article essentially spells out how millions of Americans and thousands of vital ecosystems would be effected by this pipeline. So when I hear people say the Protectors are defending Standing Rock, I say the Protectors at Standing Rock are defending America.
We did go to help. We stood in supply lines unloading trucks, carried firewood, donated supplies. I was even honored to have helped with skinning and butchering of two buffalo between elders offering prayers for them. The less glamorous part of that was digging pits in the hard ground late at night to bury their unbelievably large stomachs’ contents, none-the-less we were happy to help. The next day those two buffalo would feed the camp and then some. The biggest thing we could think of to offer, though, was our professional skills: Lynsey as a writer with plenty of experience in journalism and myself as a visual artist who’s never far from his camera. If we could be one more source of signal boosting to help get their story out, that’s what we would do. Mostly by simply asking good questions, listening, looking, and recording what we saw and heard. If we could do it in a way that adds a slightly different angle to it from what’s already been said, great. Perhaps if nothing else it just helps to reach the people within our mutual spheres, some of who might share what they’ve heard within their spheres, etc.
We weren’t sent there as employees with an agenda; we volunteered to go as independent journalists with only vague notions and distressing imagery floating about in our heads. Opposing mainstream media slants made it impossible to know what to expect. What we experienced was a vast camp of people from all over working together for a common goal in a way that inspired us. We wanted to share that experience on behalf of the inspirational people we met there. Lynsey wrote an article, Interlude at Standing Rock, and submitted it to MEL Magazine, and I submitted accompanying photographs. MEL published it. I’m not sure that we can do enough to help, but having been there helped me. It gave me a lot of perspective and hope.
Here’s the link to that article at MEL: Interlude at Standing Rock.
For those of you who regret not being able to be there in person but still want to help support the Water Protectors, here’s some resources on how you can help:
You can sign the petition, call the White House, and contribute directly to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe here standwithstandingrock.net
Donate items from the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List: sacredstonecamp.org/supply-list/
Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund: fundrazr.com/d19fAf
Donate to Yurts for Standing Rock #NoDAPL gofundme.com/yurts4StandingRock
Donate to the Red OWL Legal Defense Fund fundrazr.com/RedOwlLegal