For over ten months water protectors and their allies have been occupying land in Cannonball, ND on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline. People from across the globe have stood in solidarity, sending prayers å support to everyone here. In early November I came to the camps for the first time, and have now been living at Sacred Stone Camp for the past two months.
During my time here I have witnessed the incredible strength of a community. Strength that stands up to unjust brutality committed by local law enforcement. One event, which took place on February 4th, 2016, was when the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) arrived at the front gate of Sacred Stone Camp. Motives for arrival were unclear but after being informed that the officers weren’t going to be allowed on the premises they quickly became aggressive.
Three members of security were arrested, one of them being a woman who was hit excessively with batons by two officers as they took her to the ground. Another security member, who was trying to protect the first woman, was hit multiple times with a baton resulting in a broken arm and multiple contusions throughout his body. Members of Sacred Stone Camp watched as BIA demonstrated unnecessary violence on water protectors while trying to keep private land safe and free of any police presence.
Later in the month on February 16th, Sacred Stone Camp was given a ten day evacuation notice by the BIA to pack up our personal items and vacate the property owned by LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard. The eviction notice stated that people who stay past the eviction date could possibly be charged with trespassing. People seemed skeptical of the authenticity of the document, and some chose to rip their eviction notice in front of BIA officers as they walked away from camp.
On February 22nd Oceti Oyate (formerly known as Oceti Sakowin) was raided by BIA and Morton County Sheriff’s Department, along with other North Dakota police agencies. Oceti was located on land owned by the Army Corp of Engineers and was the largest out of the remaining camps. Officers went structure to structure with weapons in hand searching for any remaining individuals. Ten water protectors were arrested that day, including a member of the media who suffered from a broken hip which resulted from the arrest. Three days later Rosebud Camp, which was located between the former Oceti Oyate and Sacred Stone Camp, was raided as surplus military vehicles were seen inside camp taking down structures. At this moment all remaining water protectors are located at Sacred Stone Camp.
The raid created a large influx of Oceti and Rosebud “refugees” at Sacred Stone, and the atmosphere of camp quickly shifted from a small community to a hectic scramble as population numbers doubled in size. Emotions were high as Water Protectors struggled to process being evicted from a site which they once called home. This displacement was a new feeling to some, but a heavy reminder to others whose ancestors have been through this process one to many times before.
As the three former camps assimilate into one attitudes differ. Some protectors prepare to pack up and leave, while others are heavily set on staying at Sacred Stone until they are forcibly removed. Groups of water protectors are gathering on other private properties nearby, starting new ecovillages afar, while some move to other pipeline resistance camps around the country.
Water protectors who have made the decision to stay prepare themselves and their families for what could happen in the next few days. Some people staying here have given up everything they had in their previous lives to be here, and do not have any other besides Sacred Stone Camp.
Walking through camp my own emotions take over as I say goodbyes to friends and family who have chosen to leave camp, and try to decide for myself what these next few days will hold. My heart is torn between leaving on my own terms with my close friends and partner, or staying at camp until I am physically removed from LaDonna’s land by law enforcement.
In these past two months I have witnessed the racism of local law enforcement, the gross overuse of unjust charges, and the severe use of violence against water protectors. At the front lines you see law enforcement and DAPL employees working hard to protect their privileged lives, and continue the trend of colonization of indigenous people.
Since the formation of camps here at Standing Rock, other resistance camps have emerged all over the country who are working to uphold the rights of indigenous people and our environment. The city of Olympia has stood with the water protectors by organizing rallies, collecting donations, and creating a train blockade. There is a strong presence of Washington residents at camp, including students from The Evergreen State College and members of the Nisqually tribe.
Lydia Dennee-Lee, a graduate of Olympia HS, currently attends the Fairhaven College of Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA.