This morning, somewhere around 4am, we arrived at the Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Reservation. We pulled in and the overnight guard helped us find a place to park and then left us to set up our tent. I walked alongside the river inlets which, without doubt, will be poisoned by the Dakota Access Pipeline if it is allowed to go through, and looked for a good spot to set up our tent with a blanket from my mother’s house wrapped around my shoulders and a flashlight in my teeth. I nearly gave up and was about to turn back and suggest that we just camp next to where we parked when my light honed in on something round and glowing and white. I thought it was a rock at first, and since we were at Sacred Stone, I found it auspicious and chose that spot for our tent.
It turns out it was a boiled egg, and so our campsite became dubbed “Egg Camp” and set up the tent with only minimal tired bickering, crawled inside and passed out. Not an hour later, I briefly woke to a call outside the tent for young warriors to travel to the pipeline site, or Red Warrior Camp. I couldn’t stay awake long enough to even consider answering the call, though.
I woke up to the sounds of hand-drums and chanting, with the sun slowly warming our tent. It was one of the best waking experiences I had in my life. I sat up and looked out the screen on my side of the tent, which gave me a view across the river to the largest part of Sacred Stone Camp, which was littered with teepees, tents, vehicles, and the flags of over 500 indigenous nations flying proudly in wind.
As soon as I had comported myself, we set to the task of emptying my car of all of your generous donations. That car was packed incredibly full. Every inch of space except for the driver’s seat was used to maximum advantage. The roof was packed with almost a dozen tents and two massive totes full of medical supplies and food. I could not see through the rearview and could rarely even see whoever was sitting in the back because they were covered with donations. We delivered the food to the station closest to our own camp, which was coincidentally the furthest one out at Sacred Stone Camp, so their supplies were much lower than the other two. We took a list of other needs they had as well.
Then we took the medical supplies and utilitarian supplies to the center of the camp. It was surreal seeing how fast the tents disappeared. We had around ten. Before I placed the last one down, all the others had already been taken. For those who have been asking, without question, tents are the most needed thing here that you could donate. Later on we found deals at Wal*Mart for 25 and 35 dollar tents – I’m sure you can find these deals locally too. At the medical tent, our supplies were unloaded with a significant amount of gratitude. We also learned that some of the higher demand medical items are instant cold compress packs, hot hands, and dropper bottles. None of those cost much money, but they are desperately needed. We took a list from the medical tent as well and then journeyed northward toward Mandan and Bismarck to begin purchasing supplies (again, with the generous help you have given us).
On our way north we passed Red Warrior Camp (less than a mile north), the camp where most of the videos and pictures have been coming from showing confrontations with local authorities and mercenary groups hired by Dakota Access. There were few people here because the construction groups have been ordered (temporarily) to withdraw from the site. Instead, most of the direct action protestors/water protectors were camped out about another mile north of that, where the Dakota Access construction crews irreverently sliced a scar into sacred land and where the protectors watched as cultural sites and remains were desecrated and destroyed. I know that a lot of people have requested pictured and recordings and I have been doing some and plan to do more, but we are not going to take pictures of that scarred sacred land. It is not appropriate, and it is one of the most heartbreaking things I have personally witnessed in my life.
We’ll get back to what’s going on at the frontline camps.
We traveled north and that is where we took the video of the blockade that state patrol had set up. While we were waved through, we witnessed people being questioned who were coming south (the individual I saw was indigenous, of course). We went into town and loaded up on supplies. When we returned we chose to take backroads. Again, I understand the desire for video, but we had a significant amount of perishable food with us, and decided that we should not risk it.
When we cycled through the food tents, medical tents, and the frontline camp to deliver supplies, a helicopter flew overhead. Several drones flew even closer. We discovered that the National Guard had been called in and there was a strong belief that they were going to push the protectors out of the frontline camps and potentially arrest them (the camps are on public land, but not on reservation land, but as I said, this is still less than a mile from the reservation’s northern border). Originally I had planned to return to our tent and write for a couple of hours before heading back out to Bismarck to update you guys, but instead we decided to heed a call for more warriors to stand at the front. We geared up with our emergency gear, and with my chicharrones in one pocket and my gas mask in the other, we stepped up to patrol with everyone who has been there for days and weeks already (the first arriving around the middle of August).
While we waited, I heard first hand stories of the protectors being maced and the attack dogs being released. I also heard stories of mercenaries hiding beneath tarps in the nearby hills with rifles. I personally witnessed four different black vehicles with no markings, and drivers wearing what was plainly bullet proof vests, patrol back and forth on the road near the camp. Meanwhile, the National Guard took over the road block we drove through earlier and the protectors debated when they might move in and how to react. There are bottles of vinegar water and milk collected at the center of the camp, the first to ward off attack dogs, the second to wash pepper spray out of your eyes. The protectors wave flags at everyone who drives by, some say Protect the Sacred, or Protectors Not Protestors. When a veteran with a prosthetic leg showed up waving the American Indian Movement flag, cheers went up from the protectors.
There is also some discontent between the different methods of protest. At Sacred Stone, the manner of protest is peaceful with song, dance, and gathering. People stand together on the reservation where the government has no right to push them off the land for gathering and conduct ceremonies. But the northern camps, while still peaceful, are more concerned with direct action. I would describe it as passive resistance. I also want to make it clear now that I do not believe in criticizing the method of resistance. I believe both are valid. I brought the majority of the donations to Sacred Stone, and I spent the majority of my time north of the reservation in the frontline camps. The only reason I left when I did is because I know how important it is for me to be communicating with you, and telling you what is going on inside the camps. I left because the media does not want to the knowledge of what is happening here to spread. There is no love for indigenous people in this country and there never has been. Our existence and our resistance is a stain in the unfurled red, white, and blue, and the more the world is reminded of the way in which we have been and continue to be treated, the bloodier and blacker that stain grows.
So don’t let me have left the camp in vain. I need you to help as well. Your donations have gone a long way, your love and support have helped carry me here, but I, and we, need you to share with the world what is happening here. Not having the time or money to come here is understandable, but silence is not.
This isn’t over. The ruling will be coming tomorrow and I plan to be at the frontline camps when it does. The National Guard might respond then, especially if the ruling is not in our favour. I may not be able to make another post very soon if I am there when they do. I hope it does not go that way. I am praying for a favourable ruling, and I am praying that we will be able to return home safely – but I also know the history of this country, and I know the history of how the government has treated me and my ancestors, so I am preparing for the worst.
But pray for the best, and hopefully I’ll be writing another post tomorrow night about the ruling and the response here at Standing Rock.