ON THE GROUND: Standing Rock Silence

By on March 1, 2017

Inside the water protectors’ final days and why their message must not be forgotten.

Left: Big Wind and his sister Little Wind at Standing Rock. (Photo: Max Mogren)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – “Come get me,” read the text Little Wind sent at sunset, several hours after the Army Corps of Engineers (CoE) and associated agencies terrorized most of us out of main camp. Braver than me, she stayed past the official eviction deadline—2 p.m. on February 22—and risked a stint in jail if arrested for the third time in as many months. Hailing from Riverton and only 19 years old, she had been at Standing Rock off and on since August. Her only “crime” was attempting to protect our water supply from the construction of yet another oil pipeline across a place pretending to be the Land of the Free.

Despite immediate fears of a federally orchestrated invasion, Little Wind remained alongside her biological brother Big Wind and their extended family of fellow water protectors. She asked for my help getting out only because she couldn’t physically stand—let alone run from cops decked in riot gear with machine guns—due to an ankle injury she sustained a few days earlier.

We didn’t know if her ankle was broken because Little Wind refused to go for an X-ray; she only had 27 dollars to her name and didn’t want to leave camp for fear that Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agents at the newest roadblock wouldn’t let her back in. Folks were being turned away merely for having sleeping bags in their vehicles, so she wasn’t just paranoid as she bore the pain and uncertainty of her situation.

By now the highway was completely closed off, so going to get her meant hiking two muddy miles, crossing a partially frozen river, and carrying her out piggy back praying that we wouldn’t get caught.

Her injury occurred when she slipped on a muddy hillside while spreading straw from one of the 400-plus bales that we scavenged from abandoned areas of camp. During the previous week several of us had been operating as the unofficial, unsupervised Oceti Oyate road crew. Our hope was to keep the dirt roads through camp passable while a geo-engineered heat wave turned the place into a quagmire of sloppy snow, slippery ice, sticky mud and standing water.

We focused our straw-spreading efforts on the hills and high traffic areas. Things were going well for our little road crew until four days before the February 22 deadline, when federal contractors brought in big trucks to remove piles of snow quietly melting around camp. The overloaded trucks had to be pushed through the mud with bulldozers, tank treads and traction-less tires digging foot deep trenches throughout the encampment. Our roads were pretty much impassable from that day on.

Government officials declared that snow had to be removed and searched for human bodies, but that was nonsense just like the notion that the Cannonball River could flood low lying areas of camp at any moment. Just a few days ago the 4-foot deep river was still six feet below minor flood stage and eight feet below levels that would threaten any of the camp. The NWS Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service does not forecast flooding in the foreseeable future.

That river was just an icy trickle, but the state-sponsored BS still flows fast and thick.  The phone number given to independent journalists seeking official press passes was bogus, and the requirements proved impossible to meet anyway. The mainstream media showed up for only a few hours and then retreated through a police blockade totally impassable to the rest of us prior to the 2 p.m. eviction order on February 22.

Mainstream outlets reported that the camp had been cleared the day before it actually happened and were nowhere to be found when a few hundred militarized police, a few dozen humvees, and a couple MRAPs stormed the camp on the morning of February 23.  Snipers sat on the hills surrounding camp, and a Border Patrol chopper chased down our drones and jammed our livestreams.

That morning my friend and fellow journalist Ed Higgins was arrested for reporting the news. The rest of us livestreamers would have been arrested too if we weren’t so fleet of foot or hiding in the rear with the gear from the very real terror your tax dollars just bought.

CoE’s representative stated that they would not demolish structures during the invasion, but they did. The big, beautiful construction barn contained at least a hundred thousand dollars worth of tools and equipment, a bank of deep cycle batteries, fuels, motor oil, and other toxic materials. CoE crushed it with an excavator while water protectors were still in camp, contaminating the area.

The governor of North Dakota cited public safety and environmental health for evicting the camp, but would not speak on the disturbing presence of Rozol rat poison at the camp that has appeared in blood tests of sick water protectors. After 16 days in camp, my dog is still coughing up blood. I have never seen her so sick and lethargic.

Endless story short, under cover of darkness I walked back into camp to retrieve my friend Little Wind, but she didn’t want to leave anymore. I understood why. She was loyal to her cause and her friends despite great hardships brought on by a corrupt government serving corporate greed. After a few nervous hours sitting together listening to cop cars stalking the road 60 feet behind her tent on Facebook Hill, she was ready to go. I picked her up and avoided our friends standing around a nearby fire because we both felt like deserters.

The next morning I returned to camp to report the news despite my fears: Little Wind’s brave brother Big Wind was among the 47 people arrested that day.

As of press time Tuesday, on orders from Standing Rock tribal chairman “DAPL Dave” Archimbault, who authorized BIA to raid the camps, BIA has closed off access to the remaining encampments—on private land within the Standing Rock Reservation—and threatens to forcefully evict the remaining camps. By the time this report is published the water protectors of Standing Rock may be but a memory. PJH

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