My experience at Standing Rock

November 17, 2016 — I just returned from 3 days at the main camp at Standing Rock Sioux (off) reservation site near Cannonball, North Dakota. I traveled there with two companions: a fellow Green Party member and her nine-year-old daughter.

We were inspired to go by all the reports coming out of the camps over the past few months including the direct actions of the water protectors, both tribal and non-tribal activists, and the violent cops’ responses (rubber bullets, pepper spray, bean bags, tear gas etc) as well as those of the hired company thugs with attack dogs aimed at terrorizing those involved.

We left Olympia the day after the elections (on November 9) and traveled to the camp by car. It took us 2 ½ days of driving to reach our destination at the main camp where several thousand people have temporarily set up shop to resist the pipeline.

During our stay there were several direct actions with arrests (or not) outside the camp as well as non-stop activities and reports within the camp.

Just before our arrival on Friday afternoon November 11, 500 clergy members from various faiths did a prayer demonstration at the capitol building in Bismarck, ND urging the out-going Gov. Darymple to pray with him for a non-violent response to the protests. The Governor was conveniently ‘out of office’ when the protestors arrived.

The day of our arrival we received word at a gas stop just before we went South on Hwy 6 to the main camp that the highway was closed due to ‘protesters’. When we arrived at the site of the protests the road had already been cleared and a few State Patrol vehicles with slit tires were being hoisted onto flatbeds for the trip to the repair shop. Unburned tires lined both sides of the road and on either side of the road we could see the cleared pipeline pathway awaiting the laying of the pipes. This was only a few miles from our destination to the east, which was within eyesight of the Missouri River.

There are three or more camps at Standing Rock and it took us a little while to figure out the way to the main (largest) camp. At the turnoff to the camp there were two large BIA (federal) trucks and we saw several Native reservation police vehicles that were there to help keep the peace.

After we arrived in camp and were oriented, we found a suitable open camping spot and pitched our summer tent. Big mistake bringing a summer tent! Air conditioning (vented walls) in sub freezing weather makes for a chilly attempt at sleeping (not). Fortunately we brought goose down sleeping bags and had extra blankets from the donations tent.

There was a nearly non-stop public announcement and speaker system set up on one end of camp with guests arriving by the hour including tribal representatives from all over US and Canada arriving and expressing their solidarity in song and drums; American Indian Movement leaders talking about tribes succeeding from the US completed in 2018; elders offering prayers and words of wisdom to the newcomers/supporters; a former whistleblower who worked on the pipelines for Enbridge who quit after a major oil spill on a river in his home town showing his video clips and appealing for help getting his footage edited produced and distributed (with Tribal approval and support). John Bollenboch (see www.DAPLLies.com).

Every morning there is a prayer gathering at the central speaker’s area, which is announced over the loud speakers at 6:30 am. Followed by a daily water ceremony led by native women who walk down to the bank of the Cannonball River to bless participants, women first, with men lining the pathway down to the river assisting the women down one hand at a time. Small pinches of tobacco handed out to each participant and dropped in the river during the ceremony.

Every morning at 9 am there are orientation meetings for the new arrivals explaining the protocols and rules of the camp. Everyone is needed to fulfill a work role with a team: putting up yurts, building floors in army issue tents, helping with food prep in the Mess Hall, sorting donations of food, clothing, bedding, etc.

And above the main camp is the Red Warrior camp which sends out the Navajo owner/operated drone to keep track of the DAPL’s progress. And that’s where they plan the day’s non violent civil disobedience actions, vigils, demonstrations, etc.

It is recommended that those planning on going do not bring individual tents as it will be freezing and snowing and people need a heated space so group yurts are being built for this purpose. In addition there are large heavy duty army issues which will serve dual use: meetings by day, sleeping quarters at night. Of course, RV’s, camper vans, etc. are okay. Five or six kitchens serve three daily meals to the main camp’s approximately 3000 inhabitants, both the short termers and long termers. There is another off-site camp that has its own separate facilities.

All in all, it was a highly organized and informative experience as well as an inspirational one. The tribes have done an excellent job of outreach, planning, organizing, and accommodating the thousands that have come to witness and participate in the largest tribal-led multicultural encampment in US history.

Now it’s time to prepare for the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers as to whether they will issue a permit to install the pipeline under the Missouri River just north of the encampment.

Highway 1806 is blocked by state and local police forces, and heavy militarized vehicles that have been added to the police state arsenals, (leftovers from our numerous recent military invasions/occupations in the Middle East and beyond Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc).

There was a rogue group, unauthorized by the Red Warrior camp and/or tribal elder leaders, that set fire to cars, tires, etc. on the bridge just north of the main camp that led to the state police blockade.

There have been at least four states that have aided and abetted in the massive police presence and when we were in camp it was announced that 27 police officers involved in the overall police state response have announced they have laid down their badges and refused to return to service the ongoing police presence.

Besides Jill Stein and Amy Goodman’s publicized visits, others included Jesse Jackson, Susan Sarandon, Brad Pitt, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Neil Young, The Indigo Girls and many others have come to express their solidarity and/or speak out/perform. Bernie Sanders just spoke out forcefully in support of stopping the pipeline at a demonstration in Washington, D. C. calling on Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to stand by the tribes rights vs. those building the DAPL.

The tribal leaders believe that the Army Corps will issue the permit that Enbridge needs to complete the under river portion of the pipeline. But if it’s not completed by December 31, 2016 then the company will face daily losses from investor contracts expecting paybacks. There are over 17 major banks involved in loans to Enbridge and the other major DAPL interests. These banks are being pressured to withdraw from the contracts and people are being encouraged to boycott these financial investors/banks.

Hundreds of millions of people in the US and abroad are now aware of and supporting the NODAPL movement. One wealthy progressive individual has donated 2.5 million to the legal fund which bails out or represents all those arrested that need assistance.

And in cities all over the country this past week hundreds of thousands of citizens came out to the streets and demonstration sites to support the tribes leading the efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

As Bernie Sanders put it at yesterday’s D.C. rally in front of the Capital (paraphrased): Given the overwhelming evidence of man-made climate change that threatens the well-being of all inhabitants, species and biospheres of our planet and those coming after us, if we don’t stop using fossil fuels and convert rapidly to a clean energy economy we are in for a crisis the proportions of which mankind has never before witnessed or dealt with. To continue to invest and develop fossil fuel infrastructure and usage for short term profits is irresponsible and inexcusable.

Millions are anxiously waiting for Obama’s response and the Army Corps of Engineers decision on whether to issue a permit to Enbridge Corp to build the pipeline under the Missouri River, which will be out by Dec 5. A leak under the Missouri river section of the pipeline would endanger the water source for over 16 million citizens downstream.

Chris Stegman is a local self employed general contractor, Olympia resident for the past 19 years, a lifelong social justice and peace activist, a Bernie Sanders supporter/primary delegate, a former PCO with the Democratic Party, and a current member of the Thurston Progressives and the Green Party of South Puget Sound. Phone: 360-528-7188 email: cstegman007@gmail.com