I was in disbelief on hearing about what is being reported by Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier about “reports of uh, weapons, of uh, pipebombs, of some shots fired, of vandalism happening in that area, and uh, assaults on private security”… and you should be in disbelief too. The focus of this endeavor has been repeated time and again by leaders at the protest:
This is a non-violent, peaceful action. No weapons, drugs or alcohol are allowed. We are here to peacefully Protect the Earth and Defend the Water.
Our trip to Cannon Ball, ND was quite an experience. Since we were on a short trip, we agreed getting arrested was not advisable. I was expecting a bail of $100-150 but bail was set at $250. I didn’t bring quite that much cash and did not want to be a burden on the tribal funds supporting the bail efforts. If you’d like to donate, you can contribute to the fundrazr here: https://fundrazr.com/d19fAf
The arrival began with a roadblock as concrete barriers were being put in place to “protect the construction workers”. While the Water Defenders are participating in a non-violent resistance where no weapons are permitted, the security workers and police are heavily armed with automatic weapons and tasers. https://youtu.be/K_FKlo9VhLc
Once we passed the block, we pulled over to park and join the Resistance. It was inspiring. There was praying and singing and dancing as I cried and stood awestruck by the peaceful power. https://youtu.be/AvYycioWjBc
I was quite excited to meet Kevin (K-Love) almost immediately on our arrival. I’d seen video of him on FB prior to our departure from Alexandria where he was fulfilling one of the items I have on my bucket list, getting arrested as an activist. He gave me a
long and warm hug which was a big welcome. I also spoke to one of the Sheriffs to thank him for his service and to let him know we appreciated that they didn’t really want to be here either. He said he understood our stance and if I could spread a good word about them, that would be good. I told him we’re not the ones they should worry about, we’re not the ones with the guns. The security from the pipeline are the ones to fear I told him. They’re carrying the big guns. (No hug from the Sheriff…) 🙂
We found Joye and she gave directed us to first set camp at the Sacred Stone campground (on land provided by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the historic preservation officer for SRST). Once we set camp and delivered the food and supplies we’d brought, we were to work to set up a charging station for cell phones and laptops. In the end, the equipment was not capable to provide what we needed. Prior to leaving for town on a fruitless search to find needed equipment, we witnessed the arrest of Heather Belgarde. She stood on the barricade with a flag. Others had been walking and standing on the barricade all day but for some reason, the law enforcement could not abide her standing in place with her flag. They asked her to stand down and then pulled her from the barricade to arrest her. There were no female officers attending to her arrest. Here is video of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4mAT1L5KBg
Following this arrest, invited leader Mekasi Horinek, stood on the barrier admonishing the officers. What they were doing was wrong. Yet he humbly reminded everyone that we are standing in peace. We will not resort to violence. I couldn’t help but wonder how they do it. With such unfair treatment, over and over again, they continued to stand together peaceably.
We arrived back at the protest area to find that there had been a major change in events. The Oglala Spirit Riders had risen up, pushing law enforcement back. And, an unplanned youth action where several young women jumped the fence to run toward the equipment in the construction area had resulted in a shutdown of activity for the day. They approached the men asking if they had children, admonishing them to find alternative work. When asked what they were doing, they said, “taking a stroll”. One crew member informed them this was private land and Black Shawl Woman replied that this was why the construction crew needed to leave. The men were bewildered and did not know what to do. The girls ran for the river and swam over to the camp at Sacred Stone. (Later you will get a better idea of how long a journey this was.)
Our efforts soon after focused on helping prepare the evening meal. Sylvia is a wonderful cook and she created an amazing goulash from random donated food we dug up in the supply tents. I was helpful in keeping the mini “rocket” stove stoked to heat her pot. Meanwhile, Rita worked on finalizing the salad she’d brought partially prepared. These dishes were both delish additions to the other dishes that were provided to serve the over 200 people. Our numbers increased greatly today with about 250 arriving from Cheyenne River and more on the way. A second overflow camp was started closer to the Protest Site with lovely teepees sprouting up one after another.
We enjoyed getting to know people from all across the nation who have gathered together here to stand for the water. Met Adam from Up to Us – he’s from Dayton, Ohio and was amazed to meet a girl from Fairborn. Met Phil from Colorado – he and his buddy have been travelling, most recently to the DNC, protesting. Billy and her kids who were hanging around after dinner – they are local and, like many, made us feel so welcome. Bess, from Washington State, who is free as a bird with no debt and few possessions and who cracked us up with her hilarious statements. Sylvia and Rita shared that during lunch prep the next day, she noted that they were slapping together sandwiches so efficiently that they “could start a church”.
The first night had been spent in a hotel after arriving at 1 AM to the Bismark area and this second night in our tent would be quite different. While it was comfortable with only a blanket initially, it soon became clear that the sleeping bags would be necessary. I can’t imagine how cold it’s been camping here since April! It is the height of summer for crying out loud! And I’m bundled in a sleeping bag! Since we’d staked our tent on a bit of a hill, we had to keep re-positioning throughout the night. At one point, I awoke, half off my mat, and as I pushed up to regain the lost ground, I looked over to find Rita curled up with her head on the sleeping mat and the rest of her body in a ball at the door to the tent. I had to laugh out loud.
The next morning we were aroused with a loudspeaker playing drums and chants and a guy yelling to “Get up, Get Up” and get to the site. We dressed quickly, hoping to be present at the prayer circle held every morning prior to the arrival of the construction crew. We were there in plenty of time and were able to receive purification smudge and listen as the leaders reminded us of the primary criteria we needed to keep in mind:
- This is a peaceful protest. No guns or weapons of any kind are allowed. We are not violent in any way. We are simply standing together for our water.
- We are a unified gathering. While we may have different practices and ways, we are all together here for one reason, to protect our river. Native people have gathered in these lands for centuries with no bloodshed because of respect for each other’s rights. We ask to be included, to be welcomed, and we respect each other’s ways. And we do not act as individuals but as a tribe with a single purpose, peacefully resisting the potential destruction a pipeline would bring.
Our leader, Mekasi, asked his sister to do the prayer, after we heard from Dana of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and she gave a wonderful prayer while Mekasi sang. Shortly after, we received word that the construction crew that normally awaits the Sheriff escort, a ways north up the road, was nowhere to be seen. No construction crew, no law enforcement, no one was coming!! Phyllis gave us a history and legal review and then Mekasi took a moment to recognize Heather Belgarde from the day before. While her action was not planned, it was driven by her heart and she was recognized as a Warrior. She was walked around the circle so we could all see her and thank her. I felt blessed to be standing so near to Mekasi’s sister (I’d moved up earlier to be able to hear Phyllis speak) who stopped Mekasi after this presentation and asked to speak about Heather’s dad. She told Heather, and us all, that she knew Heather’s Father. She had been one of the few women on the first Dakota 38 ride and he’d been instrumental in that ride, working with the horses and making sure all went well. He was a Warrior and she too was a Warrior. It was
a beautiful recognition, honoring both Heather and her Father. Heather teared up as she spoke and then came over to give her a hug in thanks. Heather is young. I kept thinking she was too young to have lost her father already. But I will remember her name. And I will remember that she is a Warrior.
Rita and Sylvia went back to camp for coffee and to cook while I stayed at the Protest Site. There were songs, stories and gatherings as we kept watch. From atop the hill to the north, there continued to be a single vehicle, parked watching the site. We were under surveillance. But we were going nowhere.
Several people spoke or sang songs, like Tyrell from Pine Ridge, a “common man” who sang beautifully. One girl, Black Shawl Woman, had jumped the fence to run the previous day and she recounted her feelings as she ran. She spoke of feeling her ancestors with her and the drumbeat of her heart as their feet pounding the earth beside her. As I had sat with these young women recounting their story of running the previous day, Chuck, a Cheyenne River member, noted that, in olden days, they would be singing their stories. One of the most beautiful things I heard this morning was from Chuck.
Here are security men in body armor holding tasers and automatic weapons faced by Women and Children with Sage in their Hands
Chuck was one of the most hospitable people I met in these two days. He was a bright light for me. I met many others too. Waldo who shared the story of losing his wife and how it affected his daughters, and him. Nicholas who’d been a Super volunteer for Bernie’s campaign – we had a lot to share together. Donna who’d brought Johnny from Stevens Point, WI. Shunka and his humans who’d come from Philly. Frank Martin, a teacher on the Rez. Richard Gray Day who encouraged us with stories on arrival of the pending masses. Ryan from Aloha Ke Akua Healing Center.
Later Rita and Sylvia brought peach oatmeal and sandwiches for the hungry people. And we ate some of the cabbage and peanut butter I’d brought. I noticed that the gates were open and Water Defenders were streaming through into the construction site. I wondered aloud what was happening. We headed to the gate and though we asked several what was happening, all we heard was, “They’re walking to the river.” We didn’t know if this was sanctioned but I knew I wanted to see over the hill. We could see very little from the Protest Site, just the beginning of a road. So we headed inside. https://youtu.be/xOtskgHG9Rw
It was amazing to me that the distance to the river was quite far. Each time we’d think we would be there, there was another distance to cross. I don’t know how they are going to make it to the river from 1806 – it’s a long way. We walked for about an hour to get to the Missouri River. And the river itself is a massive expanse. It’s edges ever-changing. Why on Earth would we think it’s a good idea to put a pipeline carrying dirty oil under this source of life?
Along the way, we were blessed by a young girl handing us stems of sage. Her name was Delilah and she was a delight. We met up again with her at the river where we dipped our sage. I was not willing to let this sacred memento go into the river but instead offered tobacco. I will burn this sage some special time to come. Perhaps when we have won this battle. Delilah’s aunt Dominique also gave us a blessing from the Creator, bringing us to tears. The loving kindness of these people we have met is palpable. We swallow it whole and carry it with us from here onward.
It was often the case that we felt completely welcome and involved. It was very rare to feel any distrust or negativity. But I would like to review one experience as it was a big realization for me on this journey. Two young women were talking near me. After they’d been talking for some time, I’d asked politely if I could join them and Black Shawl Woman welcomed me but the other woman seemed nonplussed by my arrival. I listened to their stories and thanked them for their bravery but the one woman never seemed to warm to me, directing all her commentary to only Black Shawl Woman and turning away from me. My friend Rita educated me on the fact that, in Native culture, it is common that eyes don’t meet until there is trust and knowledge of each other. There are so many subtle layers of culture and this was one of many aspects not firmly ingrained in my wheelhouse. And, while I know there was no reason for any of these people to trust me, it was simply one instance that felt different after so many open and friendly welcomes. Later, when we arrived at home in Alexandria, while telling Danny and Jon about our journey, Danny noted that there were probably many who were wary of us. We were strangers coming into their space and surely it would be easy to pose as a protester while truly working for the pipeline people. WOW! This just didn’t even cross my mind. With these new pieces of information, I could let go of any hard feeling I had felt toward the quiet woman. I have a deeper kind of understanding, a new perspective to consider. That husband of mine is quite thoughtful. And this is why I keep him around… or so he sometimes jokes.
There is so little on this in the media but many videographers and bloggers keeping the messages coming. Here are some things you might want to review for more information.
An associated article from Winona LaDuke relating the MN happenings to this situation: http://www.inforum.com/opinion/4095347-laduke-column-dakota-access-pipeline-purchaser-looking-enron
http://www.unicornriot.ninja/?p=8409 Unicorn Riot excellent reporting on the issue
Initial Press Release: http://indigenousrising.org/spirit-camp-warriors-stand-in-path-of-the-dakota-access-pipeline/
Good summary with details: http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2016/08/dakota-access-pipeline-digging-up-human.html
Victory!! (For the moment) http://www.mitchellrepublic.com/news/state/4097005-north-dakota-pipeline-construction-halted-until-court-date#.V7YOEuu6kBg.facebook