An abridged version of this article originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole. It is also (hopefully) going to appear in next week’s SLC Weekly. Please support these fine publications for publishing independent journalism on this important topic.
Most Water Protector encampments in North Dakota were destroyed by militarized police on and around February 23rd, but the movement born at Standing Rock is just getting started. The peaceful fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is still playing out in court, and campaigns against similar pipelines are growing in Washington State, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida.
On March 10th the Native Nations Rise March in DC showed the world that the Water Protectors are peacefully and prayerfully battling more than just one pipeline. It has evolved into a powerful global movement bringing real love and respect back to life-giving Mother Earth through Indigenous wisdom.
While the mainstream media attempts to demonize Water Protectors by focusing on the mess left behind, free thinkers realize that recently bulldozed villages tend to look a lot like trash.
As TV news bemoans the sorrows of a couple dogs “abandoned” when police raided Standing Rock, the actual story asks how and why free-range Rez dogs found their way — on foot, some traveling more than 200 miles — to live with the Water Protectors.
In China some people eat dogs, but that doesn’t deter American corporations from employing cheaper Chinese labor in their simplistic search for maximized profits. Throughout Asia, Africa, Mexico, South America, and Native Nations within the US and Canada, millions of dogs don’t “belong” to anybody. Western suburbanites may find the notion of wild dogs offensive, but less domesticated cultures around the world don’t treat their dogs like children, their children like dirt, and their dirt like a garbage dump.
Corrupt governments allowing corporations to frack for oil and ship it through leaky pipelines are treating America like a garbage dump. The Water Protectors at Standing Rock are standing up to them for us.
So what if the police arrested a couple of Rez dogs at Standing Rock? Police also arrested 800+ humans, injured hundreds more, terrorized tens of thousands directly, intimidated or embarassed all Americans, and made a global laughingstock of themselves by what they did at Standing Rock.
The issue at Standing Rock isn’t the state of the camps in their final days or the fate of a few dogs, but rather the fate of all Americans and their children, and their children’s children, and so on until the next Seventh Generation. It addresses the most pressing yet permanent issue of our time: unnecessarily polluting our one and only planet for profit.
As the rest of the Western world evolves away from fossil fuels, here in America more wealth is being invested in more pipelines to pump more frack oils to ports so it can be profitably shipped to places like China. We could be building solar panels like European nations. We could be building Wardenclyffe towers like Nikola Tesla. If energy technologies were allowed to evolve on pace with advances in computing and nanotechnology, we would be on our way to living like the Jetsons.
Instead of evolving to a world of truly free energy, we invest in harvesting low grade fossil fuels accessible only through fracking. Oil is technically obsolete and fracking is a primitive method that had been shelved since the 1940’s because scientists from our great grandparents’ generation knew it would contaminate the water supply and cause earthquakes. Lacking respect for our elders and Mother Earth, we build pipelines vulnerable to earthquakes across most of the country to save a few bucks shipping the stuff. Intelligent? Forward thinking? Not quite.
Support for Standing Rock still pours forth from the wealthiest place in America: Jackson Hole, forward-thinking and well-funded place that it is. When the camps in North Dakota still existed, several dozen JH locals made pilgrimages there, including Miller Resor who hosted solidarity events here and in LA and donated a nice 5th wheel camper full of equipment to the cause.
“For me, Standing Rock is about drawing a line in the sand and refusing to allow corporate interests to outweigh human rights or environmental conscience. Standing Rock is about coming together for people and planet,” said Resor.
It’s hard to explain the beauty and power of the prayer element present at Standing Rock. Giving thanks to Mother Earth, asking the Creator for wisdom, compassion, health and safety for all relations, friend and foe. It was an incredible thing to feel in person. The power of peaceful protest was reflected in how hard the opposition tried to undermine and destroy it.
Local sailor Kate Brennen also spent time at Standing Rock and brought this awareness back:
We all need to start listening to our Indigenous communities. I mean really listening. One thing I found interesting and frustrating was that even the most well-intentioned white folks feel the need to come in and “fix” things rather than truly listening to the people who have been navigating this oppression for 500 years. For me the most amazing thing was being out there with my Dad. Art Brennan is a veteran and an activist. He is a legend. I will never forget walking arm and arm with him in the ND winter with hope in our hearts.
Micah “Big Wind” Lott, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe from Riverton, spent 6 months at Standing Rock and was arrested twice. His comments reflect –on a deeper level — what Resor and Brennen experienced:
Standing Rock started with a prayer for clean water. Then it grew into a community of like-minded, passionate individuals who came from all walks of life, different countries, over 300 Native Nations, and all 50 states. We came for a common purpose which was to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, yet we created a family while there. We had daily tasks that became our jobs to make sure everything ran smoothly. We became more in touch with nature and our inner selves.
Oceti Sakowin showed me there is a 3rd option other than fight or flight. We no longer have to engage in violence to survive like our ancestors did. Blood was shed and the ancestors do not want that for us. That’s the basis of the movement: Prayerful Resistance.
I got to visit Standing Rock twice, and livestreamed the Native Nations Rise March in DC. Like most of you reading this, I work a less meaningful to get by, and my greatest personal fear while driving out to North Dakota was getting delayed or detained long enough to lose my relatively lucrative yet skier-friendly jobs. That’s how life often is in a society ruled by money and controlled with fear.
Seeking the truth, raising awareness of our society’s real problems, and engaging in civil disobedience doesn’t pay the bills for very many people. The system is set up that way. Truly good jobs that pay a decent wage are hard to come by, even here in North America’s wealthiest county per capita: Jackson Hole.
In places like the Standing Rock Reservation, crushing poverty is the norm. Please remember that when assessing the situation. Please remember where poverty comes from, who it serves, and why it even exists. The notion of “professional protesters” profiting from Standing Rock is absurd. Everyone there was sacrificing their own economic wellbeing for the greater good.
During my first visit to in November the main camp was a peaceful, prayerful, and densely populated place. Overloaded by visitors bearing gifts and overwhelmed by outside supporters provisioning it for a long winter, Oceti Sakowin Camp stood proudly through eviction orders issued by both the Governor of North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers. Fifteen thousand people showed up to declare “Mni Waconi!” (Water is Life) and “No DAPL!” on December 5th, the scheduled eviction day.
The Army Corps of Engineers backed down and pipeline construction temporarily went on hold. The mainstream media showed up just long enough to declare victory for the Water Protectors, and Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archimbault told everyone to go home because the Native-led protests had won.
Thousands of Water Protectors saw through the façade and stayed on, camping out through a long, dark North Dakota winter. As -20* days became the norm, most people left their things in camp vowing to return when the weather warmed. Many of them were financially broke after devoting months to civil disobedience in a place where very few employment opportunities exist.
Hundreds of collapsed tents fluttered in the cold wind, abandoned after being buried in the sleeting rain and blizzards that came just as Standing Rock’s population crested in late November and early December. Trash, plowing, and toilet services were suspended at main camp when tribal support was officially withdrawn. Community composting toilets had to be built inside large military surplus tents.
Many Water Protectors got really sick, and some blamed it on tons of Rozol rat poison which had been secretly and illegally spread on 80 acres directly upwind just across the highway from camp. Others pondered rumors of planes secretly spraying something over camp at night.
Militarized police maintained their illegal blockade of ND HWY 1806 from October 27th onward throughout the winter. Police floodlights filled the encampments every night. Despite the many hardships and uncertainties, hundreds of Water Protectors chose to stay.
As the February Snowpocalypse shut down Jackson Hole, I returned to Standing Rock to figure out what was going on. It now felt more like a struggling refugee camp terrorized by surrounding security forces. The police had moved much closer and their floodlights were blinding throughout the encampment.
Another eviction order had been issued for February 22nd, and Water Protectors called out on social media for help with spring cleaning. A ten day heat wave was in the forecast and the government warned that the Cannon Ball River could flood, so going out to help clean up seemed like the best way to support the movement and protect the local environment from pollution. Instead of the 15,000 people I encountered in December, there were maybe 500 diehard Water Protectors remaining in main camp mid-February.
Being a welcome, working guest in camp for another two weeks was an amazing experience despite the many hardships and pain of witnessing so much oppression and destruction.
By February 18th most of the camp was a quagmire of standing water and mud criss-crossed with deep ruts from heavy equipment employed while cleaning up camp. A lot of vehicles got stuck as people realized that the roads through camp had become impassable. Further camp cleanup was seriously hindered after that.
On February 23rd approximately two hundred militarized police invaded and destroyed the main encampment at Standing Rock. They came in humvees and armored personnel carriers. They wore body armor, brandished tactical weaponry, and barked orders aggressively while creeping through camp.
Their snipers scoped us from the surrounding hillsides. Their jamming devices hindered our live feeds. Their helicopter swooped overhead stalking independent journalists’drones. Their heavy machinery began destroying everything in camp: tipis, tents, sacred sites, and even a barn full of tools and equipment.
They recorded our faces and actions while they hid behind masks and badges. They followed orders without visible compassion, honor, or bravery and collected their pay. At taxpayers’ great expense they protected corporate profits from a few dozen peaceful people engaged in my favorite act of civil disobedience: illegal camping.
Short of shooting everyone on sight, the police behaved as if bulldozing a village of indigenous freedom fighters half the world away. But we were in North Dakota, and the only warriors they encountered remained peacefully in prayer throughout the ordeal. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured as forty seven people were arrested while standing up for clean water and human rights on ground considered sacred for centuries.
I know all of this to be true because Creator honored me with the experience of being a small part of Standing Rock’s last stand, and my friends were among those arrested that day. Fellow journalist Ed Higgins was detained while livestreaming at the front line during the raid. Fellow Wyomingite Micah “Big Wind” Lott got nabbed while holding space in camp, and described what happened after his arrest:
We were put in cages and stripped to our base layers. Then we were transported for hours with our hands ziptied behind us in freezing temperatures. The zipties were too tight on some and their hands turned blue. We weren’t fed for 15 hours, and were blocked from calling our legal support for far too long.
Big Wind and the rest of the men arrested on February 23rd were bound with their hands behind their backs and driven to a prison 5 hours away before being properly processed into the penal system. The women arrested that day got treated a bit better, perhaps because a revered Native Grandmother walked among them.
Water Protectors able to avoid arrest escaped on foot across the frozen Cannonball River. The only open road to camp had been blockaded by the BIA for a week and was closed completely 24 hours prior to the raid.
The mainstream media left the day before police raided camp, but they repetitively reported the government’s official reason for eviction: supposed imminent danger of flooding from the Cannonball River, which remains locked in ice today. The four foot deep river is still 6 feet below minor flood stage, and eight feet below levels where the lowest areas of the camp would be threatened. The Cannonball River is a very small river. It has only flooded 9 times in the last 70 years, and is not forecast to flood in the forseeable future, according to the NWS Advance Hydrological Prediction Center.
The official reason for evicting the encampment was a lie. It painted Water Protectors as foolish and filthy water polluters. It portrayed the government as ecologically aware and preemptively poised to prevent a minor environmental issue while busy protecting the construction of a nearby oil pipeline.
A few days after the big eviction, most of the remaining camps — on private land above the floodplain within the Standing Rock Reservation — were evicted by the BIA on orders from the Standing Rock Tribal Council. Now only the Cheyenne River Camp somehow remains, and the ancient burial hill there overlooks where sprawling Oceti Sakowin Camp once stood.
Though the mainstream media payed little attention, the last week of February showcased a shameful spectacle punctuating a state-sponsored siege against a peaceful prayer encampment right here in middle America.
Fortunately, the militarized police state showed its teeth without biting anyone too badly: during the final evictions police were more restrained and less violent than during many previous encounters with Water Protectors.
Arguably, the worst of it came on November 20th, 2016 when tear gas, an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), stinger grenades, rubber bullets, and a water cannon were used against Water Protectors. The air temperature was below freezing as police blasted people with cold water laced with hot pepper for nine hours. Police shot down three media drones and targeted journalists with rubber bullets. That was the day Sophia Wilansky had her arm blown apart by a stinger grenade, at least 17 Water Protectors went to the hospital, and a few hundred people suffered from hypothermia.
The attacks of November 20th targeted Water Protectors attempting to remove two burnt military trucks blockading the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806. Police had abandoned the trucks there in the middle of the road on October 27th. That night the trucks mysteriously caught fire. Police publicly blamed the Water Protectors without providing any evidence, built a concrete blockade behind the torched trucks, and chained the trucks to it.
Highway 1806 is the main road from the Bismarck/Mandan metro area to the Standing Rock Reservation and its main profit center: the Prairie Knights Resort and Casino. The closed road hurt the tribal economy, hindered commuters, cut off Water Protectors from occupying pipeline construction sites, and endangered a lot of lives by doubling the drive time from Standing Rock to the closest hospital.
North Dakota governments made empty promises to reopen the highway while police simultaneously beefed up their blockade with razor wire, sound cannons,assault vehicles, and such. Highway 1806 remained closed for more than five months, until March 21st.
Officially, the road was closed because the bridge had been deemed unsafe after those trucks burned atop it. The mainstream demonized the Water Protectors as arsonists, never asking why police parked the trucks in the middle of the bridge and abandoned them there in the evening of the day they raided and demolished the “1851 Treaty Camp,” a direct action, peaceful occupation of the pipeline’s proposed route on the North side of Backwater Bridge.
Houston-based journalist Derrick Broze filmed the events of October 27th, including the trucks being abandoned on the bridge and a group of what appear to be hired thugs intimidating peaceful protesters before torching the vehicles. Derrick is a saavy, experienced livestreamer who has bravely reported from the frontlines at several police confrontations. That night he was forced to hide in the woods near the bridge because the agitators — not the police — threatened to break his camera and demanded that he leave. He shared the story with me in person and wrote the following at Mint Press News:
Although stationed on the Water Protectors’ side of the bridge, a small group of individuals did not seem to hold the same values or practice the same tactics as the larger, Native-led movement against the pipeline. In stark contrast to the water protectors’ many actions of peaceful prayer and ceremony, the atmosphere at the bridge the night of Oct. 27 was more reminiscent of an outdoor rave. The people on the bridge set fire to an SUV, and threw rocks and other objects at a row of armored vehicles operated by law enforcement. This small faction of non-peaceful protesters and officers briefly tossed smoke bombs back and forth.
Officers eventually lit two smoke bombs on the north side of the bridge before parking two armored vehicles on the bridge, preventing water protectors and protestors from evacuating in that direction. All law enforcement vehicles were gone within a matter of minutes, and people climbed aboard the armored vehicles before setting fire to them. The fires they set burned throughout the night, as neither law enforcement nor fire department personnel ever arrived at the scene to extinguish the flames.
On Oct. 28, water protectors and elders arrived on the scene to retake the bridge from the agitating faction wearing all-black clothing, a tactic for protests and marches known as “black bloc.” There were no more than 20 of these provocateurs, and they all traveled together in five older pick-up trucks. Several fights broke out on the bridge as the agitators clashed with those calling strictly for prayer and ceremony, and the agitators were run off the bridge within an hour.
Siouxz, the head of security for the frontline camp off North Dakota Highway 1806, said those who started the fires were not with the Water Protector Movement. Apparently intent on forcing their tactics upon the movement, these outside forces appeared uninterested in listening to the Standing Rock Sioux or other Native Water Protectors.
Although the black bloc tactic has been used as a legitimate way for protesters to shield their identities from law enforcement, it has also been exploited by law enforcement. Police masquerading as black bloc activists have been exposed at the 2001 G8 Summit in Italy, at protests in 2007 in Quebec, and police posed as activists to infiltrate the Occupy Movement.
Regardless of whether or not the truck burners were hired provocateurs, the police abandoned those trucks that night so they could be used to justify closing Highway 1806 indefinitely. These are the underhanded tactics the police state stoops to while terrorizing people who put their lives on the line performing acts of peaceful resistance.
The last time the American police state got this unnecessarily violent with peaceful protesters was back in 2011 when the Occupy Wall Street movement spread like a flooding river of awareness across the country and around the globe. In response, a federally orchestrated crackdown swiftly evicted hundreds of urban protest encampments that had been popping up across America. Aggressive official actions were justified with statements about public health and safety, just as we saw at Standing Rock.
In reality, the Occupy encampments were deemed a threat to national security and financial stability because they raised so much awareness surrounding the fact that our currencies are controlled by a privately-owned, profit-driven banking cartel. With near limitless power of the purse these banksters exert undue influence across the spectrum of our planetary civilization by rigging markets, steering development, collapsing economies, overthrowing governments, funding wars, and charging interest on every unit of almost all major currencies.
To this day the seeds sown by the Occupy Movement are still growing an enhanced awareness about the corrupted and crumbling foundation of the current financial system. This fundamentally flawed system fails to adequately serve the vast majority of humanity and drives most of the senseless investments and developments destroying our life-giving Mother Earth.
Despite similar evictions from their awareness-raising encampments, the Water Protectors of Standing Rock are still standing up bravely for Mother Earth by directly opposing one such senseless development: the Dakota Access Pipeline.
DAPL is designed to pump fracked oil from North Dakota to Chicago so it can be shipped overseas. Fracking for fossil fuels pollutes insane amounts of groundwater and causes earthquakes. The pipelines don’t do well during earthquakes because all that shaking and shifts can cause them to break.
The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, plans to ship frack oil from the Bakken Fields to Chicago for $8 per barrel: $6 less than it currently costs to take it by train. ETP hopes the pipeline will carry 470,000 barrels per day. At a rate of $8 per barrel, the company should gross about $1.4 billion per year, paying off a $4 billion dollar investment in just a couple of years… unless the pipeline breaks, or course.
It’s all about making money, and one way ETP is more profitable is by employing very few people: if completed the pipeline will only need approximately 20 workers along it’s 1,134 mile length.
During construction, of course, hundreds of police and security contractors collected hefty paychecks for sitting around in idling vehicles, terrorizing citizens engaged in civil disobedience, and protecting a private construction site. Meanwhile volunteer Water Protectors encamped in an impoverished area where job opportunities don’t exist were criticized for setting up GoFundMe accounts. The absurdity of the situation is painful to dwell upon.
At a loss for words, I’ll leave you with something hopeful that Big Wind told me recently :
I wish everyday Americans could see the sacrifices we made here trying to protect sacred land and water, rather than focusing on the propaganda and drama that surrounds every movement. Thousands came in December to support Indigenous resistance, and this movement has inspired millions.
Now that we have been forcibly removed from the camps at Standing Rock it is time to heal and reflect. I grew so much emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. Oceti helped me become a warrior and now that the sacred fire has been put out at all camps, it is time to let the fire burn in our hearts and utilize our resources we have gained here, share the skills that were acquired with others, educate people on what to expect if a similar situation threatens their ancestral lands.
It was bittersweet leaving ,but I know this movement is far from over. There are thousands of Water Protectors who will train thousands more. We will defeat the “black snake”. The prophecy says the 7th Generation will kill the snake, and that is us.
From what I have seen these past several months, our ancestors predicted certain situations from the unification of the condor (South American Natives) and the eagle (North American Native), to the rise of the 7th generation, to the “Rainbow Nation” joining forces with the “Red Nation”. All of that happened at Standing Rock and now it is time to make our ancestors proud.
Little Wind and I will be at the Native Nations Rise March in DC March 10th. After that we plan to travel to other Water Protector camps around the country to share what we learned at Standing Rock.