Earlier this year, a small group of people gathered near the Missouri River, right outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. A few members of the tribe held a "spiritual protest," keeping a round-the-clock vigil and citing prayers to protect against the "black snake," or the Dakota Pipeline (DAPL). At the time, though, it appeared like a done deal: Paperwork was signed, construction was fast tracked and it seemed to many, just another case of Native American's rights and environmental concerns brushed aside.
This time, however, has been different.
Thousands have shown up to the site in Cannonball, North Dakota to show their love and support for the tribe. Members of other tribes, activists, and environmentalists have joined the movement to protect sacred land and clean drinking water. One of these activists is Gina Marie, who collected donations and drove up all the way to North Dakota from California to volunteer at the camp sites.
Marie joined thousands of other people camping out at Cannonball to protect the land from the pipeline and stand with the Standing Rock Sioux. The pipeline was proposed in 2015 by the Dakota Access Company and if completed, it will stretch 1,172 miles underground and carry crude oil every day from North Dakota to Illinois. It's estimated to cost a massive 3.7 billion dollars!
The people camping out to protect the land and water are there for the long haul. As Marie drove up to one of the sites with her car filled with supplies, mainly cold blankets as temperature are beginning to drop in freezing North Dakota, she saw something remarkable. She entered the camp late at night and expected a sleepy atmosphere. Instead, a celebratory camp filled with positive energy unfolded before her. People were dancing, singing, and a few speaking into microphones.
The place was alive with energy. “I started to cry, I couldn't believe all the people. I was blown away, ” she told BUST.
As the sun rose, surrounding by laughing children, Marie saw hundreds of teepees and flags from other tribes. In fact, seeing this many flags is quite extraordinary. There are members of over 280 indigenous tribes present! This is a collaboration that has never happened before, as many of these tribes haven't exactly been friendly in the past.
Members of the Crow Nation haven’t been welcome in Sioux territory since the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Last month, however, people from the Crow Nation rolled in bearing peace pipes and buffalo meat and they were formally welcomed by the Standing Rock Leaders. “There has never been anything like this in Indian country before, ever,” said LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historic preservation officer for the Standing Rock Sioux, according to Grist.
Although bound in opposition, the movement is not encouraging any violence or hate. Peace and healing are the widespread messages throughout the camp. Tribal leaders shout through loudspeakers each day not to treat police officers or construction workers with hostility. Many of the campers are even resistant to being referred to as “protester” because of its violent implications. They prefer “protector” because they are safeguarding the land and its resources.
As the tribes are coming together alongside other human rights and environmental activists, a tiny village is forming with a makeshift school and cafeteria, where every few hours, people are fed for free.
The cultural school for children is where Marie delegated most of her time. The Defenders of Sacred Water School teaches the usual reading, writing, and math but also teaches cultural education, such as skirt-making, Lakota language, and lacrosse. The school also held trust-building circles and prayer walks to the river.
Amidst all the celebration of Oceti Sakowin (Dakota, Lakota, Nakota nations) heritage is a system of organized chaos, as people shuffle supplies from camp to camp. Yet as the movement continues to grow, the need for help intensifies. It has become a race to prepare for winter. It became clear to Marie, as she sorted through thousands of donations, that they didn't need any more clothes, except, of course for any cold-gear, such as thermals and winter boots. It's after all, North Dakota! (See below for full list of needed items).
This movement celebrating Native American identity bound together for the universal need for water is making a very important mark in history. It's made it clear to the U.S government and energy corporations, they can no longer just brush aside treaty agreements. While, DAPL never proposed to cross reservation land, it's required for federal agencies to review any construction with Native Nations or tribes if it could potentially harm any places of “religious and cultural significance” — even if it's not technically on a reservation.
This clearly didn't happen here. Shortly after Standing Rock Sioux tribe asked for an injunction to temporarily halt the construction on sacred burial ground (until the larger lawsuit was settled), the Dakota Access started digging up on that land. Tensions rose and some people of the tribe were bitten upon by dogs and sprayed with mace.
The fight is clearly far from over. Just yesterday, it was reported that "protesters" were arrested, sprayed, and intimidated with guns and weapons. As more details emerge, it’s important we allow the people stay on the grounds until the issue is peacefully settled in court. I'm fearful these “protectors” will be forced to leave the beautiful village they created, as history replays itself over and over again.
At at the heart of this “protest” is a celebration of Native American spirit and identity. For a group of people, who have been left to pick up the ruins of colonization and widespread dissemination, this incredible migration is a fight for human dignity and the land that had once been theirs.
How can I help?
There are various ways you can help. You can donate your time (vets, medics, & midwives are in high demand). You can also send some of the items below or donate money. It's going to be cold winter, it's important people have gear to protect them!
Below are some of the needed items that can be sent to Dakota Access Pipeline Donation Fund.
- Wool Blankets
- Sleeping bags
- Dry food (spam is well-liked!)
- Brown sugar for coffee
- 2 Propane Stoves
- Cast Iron, 4 leg pots
- 4-6 Pyrex Pots
- Water dispensers
- Solar panel (various sizes)
- Sleds & snow shoes
- Electric snow blowers
- Skin sutures
- Glass jar with labels and sharpies
- Solar Lighting Systems
- Tea Tree soap
- Tampons and pads
- Horse supplies for daily care
- Shelters for food and storage
- Teepees (Paint too!)
Photos by Gina Marie
Top Photo screenshot via youtube.
Follow Gina Marie for more updates on DAPL.
More from BUST
Patricia is a writer, activist, and aspiring journalist. She likes writing about politics, sexuality, and feminism. She is a bit of a wanderer and has lived in Morocco, Australia, and India. Recently moved to Brooklyn, she is currently learning to navigate NYC subways.