Recently, we returned from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the protest there against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline is being constructed to carry oil from North Dakota southward to Illinois. It would run the oil underneath the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers; the main water source for the tribe and millions of people south of this point. The protesters want to stop the pipeline for fear of future spillage destroying both the land and water.
We want to share a few thoughts as we consider this a substantial movement, which is being underrepresented by the media. Most people are only learning about it on social media. Reporting found there is spotty in accuracy. It seems there is more reporting on the topic by mainstream media overseas than in our own country. One must wonder at times why that is so.
The four of us, one professor and three students from Marlboro College made the 32-hour drive out to North Dakota for a week. The decision to go was rather spur of the moment. Within 36 hours of deciding we were able to gather the support of area community members. To everyone who helped we offer our sincere gratitude. We delivered 16 sleeping bags, wool blankets, five tents, two camping stoves, camping gear, winter clothes, boots and over $2,300. We were careful in selecting how we divided up the donations attempting to be as effective as possible.
The protector's encampment is filled with thousands of people from around the world. We were told there have been times where there were as many as seven thousand supporters camped there. They prefer to call it an action by protectors of the water (mni wiconi, water is life), rather than a protest. We personally met people from Italy, France, Canada, Japan, Ecuador, Norway, Mexico, Chile among many other countries. There are representatives from over 240 indigenous tribes. People come daily as others leave returning to their homes and jobs. Many people are determined to stay there continuing their struggle until the end. Plans are being made to create a winter camp. The North Dakota winters can be as difficult as you can imagine with cold temperatures amplified by very strong winds.
It is impressive, to say the least, that people there deal with all the inconveniences of camping out to show their values of protecting the earth and respecting treaty rights.
The community is organized. First and foremost they regularly talk in defense of the movement staying peaceful. There are guidelines including no weapons, drugs, or alcohol are permitted into the community. Kitchens are working around the clock to serve meals to everyone, even vegan meals (a first we have seen with Native Communities). There is a school set up and they are working with the state of North Dakota to approve accreditation. There are medical centers, herbalists, legal aid, and so much more.
The funds some of you donated were given to the medical facility, school, encampment financial officers spending funds as most needed, families in need, purchase of tents and tarps, herbalist medical support, food for the kitchens and helping to make a documentary film
These contributions were greatly appreciated and truly needed. The need is great. If people would like to support the efforts, funds are greatly needed to purchase winter supplies. John Willis is flying out there again on Oct. 12 for two weeks. He can accept Paypal donations at email@example.com. We are all willing to discuss the situation with anyone who would like.
While driving back we heard the news how the police arrested 21 people after the sheriff said some police saw protestors with guns. We were there at a protest the day before this and watched the "protesters" thank the police with handshakes and greetings in traditional Lakota fashion. They thanked each officer for the work they do, risking their lives to protect our communities. We cannot say for certain that no protestors have guns. However, the leaders are so clearly and frequently speaking against weapons, violence, and even negative speech that we find it very hard to believe the sheriff's words. The water defenders want to prioritize protecting the protection of their reservation and the Earth over the monetary interests of the corporation.
Three days before we left, we went to photograph the pipeline across the landscape from a main road. We turned down a public dirt road and were immediately pulled over by a policeman. When we asked if we were doing anything wrong, he responded by saying "not yet" and they just wanted to "check us out." The police car was not alone. We were, boxed in by eight cars including local police, sheriff, police from the next county, state troopers, Bureau of Indian Affairs Police and FBI. After 10 minutes of being checked out, we were told to leave, even though it was clearly public property and we were not doing anything illegal. We tell you this only to share the level of intimidation, which is going on.
We all had an amazing eye opening experience and everyone's donations are truly appreciated. We do not know the likelihood protestors can stop DAPL from completing the pipeline, although we hope they do. Either way, we believe this is larger than the pipeline, and it draws attention to Native American rights as well as, those of indigenous people's throughout the world, environmentalism, and injustice similarly to the Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and anti Citizens United movements. With luck, these movements will find better ways to work together. This ever-shrinking planet deserves it to be so and the time is now for justice for all to triumph over profit for the few.
John Willis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.