FEATURE: Sacred Knowledge
The Standing Rock story corporate media didn’t tell you.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – Militarized police destroyed the encampments in North Dakota two weeks ago, but the movement that began at Standing Rock is just getting started. The peaceful opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is still playing out in court, and encampments against proposed pipelines have popped up in Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. On March 10 the Native Nations Rise March in Washington, D.C. will show the world that this is about more than stopping one pipeline.
Support for the Water Protectors still pours forth from Jackson Hole. Several dozen locals made pilgrimages there, including Miller Resor who hosted solidarity events in Jackson and Los Angeles. He carted a donated 5th wheel camper full of equipment across the country to support the cause.
“For me, Standing Rock is about drawing a line in the sand and refusing to allow corporate interests to outweigh human rights or environmental conscience,” Resor said. “Standing Rock is about coming together for people and planet. It’s hard to explain the beauty and power of the prayer element present at Standing Rock. The power of peaceful protest was reflected in how hard the opposition tried to undermine and destroy it.”
Local sailor Kate Brennen brought this awareness back from Standing Rock:
“We all need to start listening to Indigenous communities. I mean really listening. One thing I found interesting and frustrating was that even the most well-intentioned white folks feel the need to come in and ‘fix’ things rather than truly listening to the people who have been navigating oppression here for 500 years.”
For Brennan, the most memorable thing was being out there with her Dad. “I will never forget walking arm and arm with him in the North Dakota winter with hope in our hearts.”
Then there is Micah “Big Wind” Lott, a 23-year-old member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe from Riverton. He spent six months at Standing Rock and was arrested there twice. His comments reflect what Resor and Brennen experienced on a deeper level.
“Standing Rock started with prayer for clean water,” he said. “It grew into a community of passionate individuals who came from all walks of life, over 300 Native Nations, many countries, and all 50 states. We came with a common purpose: to stop DAPL. We created a family while there. We had daily tasks that became our jobs to make sure everything ran smoothly. We became more in touch with nature and our inner selves.”
Lott says he learned there is a third option beyond fight or flight. “We no longer have to engage in violence to survive like our ancestors did. That’s the basis of the movement: Prayerful resistance.”
I also visited Standing Rock twice, spending a month total in camp.
During my first visit in November the main camp was peaceful, prayerful, and packed with people. Overwhelmed by visitors and support, Oceti Sakowin Camp stood proudly through eviction orders issued by both the governor of North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE). On December 5, the scheduled eviction day, 15,000 people showed up to declare, “Mni Waconi!” (Water is Life!) and “No DAPL!” ACoE backed down and pipeline construction temporarily went on hold. The mainstream media showed up just long enough to declare victory for the Water Protectors. Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archimbault told everyone to go home because the Native-led protests had prevailed.
However, thousands of Water Protectors saw through the façade and stayed on, camping out through a North Dakota winter. As negative 20 temps became the norm, most people left their things in camp vowing to return when the weather warmed.
Many people who stayed grew ill, and some blamed it on heaps of Rozol rat poison that had been, according to the Bismarck Tribune, secretly and illegally spread on 80 acres directly upwind just across the highway from camp. Despite this and many other hardships and uncertainties, hundreds of Water Protectors endured the winter.
As the February “Snowpocalypse” shut down Jackson Hole, I returned to Standing Rock. It now felt more like a struggling refugee camp terrorized by surrounding security forces. The police had moved much closer and their floodlights filled the camp at night.
ACoE issued another eviction order for February 22, and Water Protectors called out on social media for help with spring-cleaning. A 10-day heat wave was in the forecast and the government warned that the Cannon Ball River could flood, so going out to help clean up seemed like the best way to support the movement and protect the local environment.
By February 18 most of the camp was a quagmire of mud with deep ruts from heavy equipment used to clean up the camp. The roads through camp had become impassable. Further camp cleanup was seriously hindered after that.
Five days later approximately 200 militarized police invaded and destroyed main camp at Standing Rock. They came in humvees and armored personnel carriers. They wore body armor, brandished tactical weaponry, and barked orders aggressively while creeping through camp.
Their snipers scoped us from the surrounding hillsides. Their jamming devices hindered our live feeds. Their helicopter swooped overhead stalking independent journalists’ drones. Their heavy machinery destroyed everything in camp: tipis, tents, sacred sites, and even a barn full of tools and equipment.
They recorded our faces and actions while they hid behind masks and badges. They followed orders and collected their pay. At the expense of taxpayers they protected corporate profits from a few dozen peaceful people engaged in my favorite act of civil disobedience: illegal camping.
Short of shooting everyone on sight, the police behaved as if bulldozing a village of indigenous freedom fighters half the world away. The only warriors they encountered remained peaceful throughout the ordeal. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured as 47 people were arrested while standing up for clean water and human rights on ground considered sacred for centuries.
My friends were among those arrested that day. Fellow journalist Ed Higgins was detained while livestreaming at the front line during the raid. Fellow Wyomingite Lott got nabbed while holding space in camp. He described what happened after his arrest.
“We were put in cages and stripped to our base layers. Then we were transported for over five hours to a remote prison with our hands zip-tied behind us in freezing temperatures,” he said. “The zip-ties were too tight on some and their hands turned blue. We weren’t fed for 15 hours, and were blocked from calling our legal support for far too long.”
The women arrested that day got treated a bit better, perhaps because a revered Native grandmother walked among them.
The rest of us avoided arrest by escaping on foot across the frozen Cannonball River. The only open road to camp had been blockaded by Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for a week and was closed completely 24 hours prior to the raid.
Mainstream news did not cover the raid, instead repeatedly reporting the government’s official reason for eviction: supposed imminent danger of flooding from the Cannonball River, which remains locked in ice today. The Cannonball River is a small river that has only flooded nine times in the last 70 years. According to the National Weather Service, it is not forecast to flood in the foreseeable future.
The official reason for evicting the encampment was a lie. It painted Water Protectors as foolish water polluters. It portrayed the government as ecologically aware and preemptively poised to prevent a minor environmental issue while protecting the construction of a nearby oil pipeline.
A few days after main camp’s eviction, most of the remaining camps—on private land above the floodplain within the Standing Rock Reservation—were evicted on orders from the Standing Rock Tribal Council. Now only the small Cheyenne River Camp remains.
Though the mainstream media paid little attention, the last week of February showcased a shameful spectacle punctuating a months-long siege against a peaceful prayer encampment in America. Fortunately, during final evictions police were more restrained than during many previous encounters with Water Protectors.
Arguably, the worst of it came on November 20 when tear gas, an LRAD (long range acoustic device), stinger grenades, rubber bullets, and a water cannon were used against Water Protectors. That day the air temperature was below freezing as police blasted people with cold water for nine straight hours. Police also shot down three media drones and targeted journalists with rubber bullets. Sophia Wilansky had her arm blown apart by a stinger grenade, at least 17 Water Protectors went to the hospital, and a few hundred people suffered from hypothermia.
The attacks of November 20 targeted Water Protectors attempting to remove two burnt military trucks blockading the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806. Police abandoned the trucks there on October 27, and that night the trucks mysteriously caught fire.
Highway 1806 is the main road from Bismarck to the Standing Rock Reservation and its main business, the Prairie Knights Resort and Casino. The closed road hurt the tribal economy, hindered commuters, and endangered lives by doubling the drive time from Standing Rock to the closest hospital.
Officially, the road was closed because the bridge was “unsafe” due to the burnt trucks. Local government made empty promises to reopen the highway while police simultaneously beefed up their blockade with concrete barriers, razor wire, and assault vehicles. Highway 1806 remained closed for more than four months, until after the evictions in late February.
Police and mainstream media wrote off the Water Protectors as arsonists, never asking why police abandoned the trucks on the bridge or who actually set them on fire.
Houston-based journalist Derrick Broze filmed the events of October 27, including a group of what appear to be hired thugs intimidating peaceful protesters before torching the trucks. Broze is a veteran livestreamer who has bravely reported from the frontlines at many confrontations with police. That night he hid in the trees near the bridge because the thugs—not the police—threatened to break his camera and demanded that he leave. He reported for Mint Press News: “Although stationed on the Water Protectors’ side of the bridge, a small group of individuals did not seem to hold the same values or practice the same tactics as the larger, Native-led movement against the pipeline. In stark contrast to the Water Protectors’ many actions of peaceful prayer and ceremony, the atmosphere at the bridge the night of October 27 was more reminiscent of an outdoor rave. The people on the bridge set fire to an SUV, and threw rocks and other objects at a row of armored vehicles operated by law enforcement. This small faction of non-peaceful protesters and officers briefly tossed smoke bombs back and forth.”
Broze recounted that officers eventually lit two smoke bombs on the north side of the bridge before parking two armored vehicles there. All law enforcement vehicles were gone within a matter of minutes, and people climbed aboard the armored vehicles before setting fire to them. The fires, Broze reported, burned throughout the night, as neither law enforcement nor fire department personnel ever arrived at the scene to extinguish the flames.
On October 28 Water Protectors and elders arrived on the scene to retake the bridge from the agitating faction wearing all-black clothing, a tactic for protests and marches known as “black bloc.” There were no more than 20 of these provocateurs, Broze explained, and they all traveled together in five older pick-up trucks. Several fights broke out on the bridge as the agitators clashed with those calling strictly for prayer and ceremony, and the agitators were run off the bridge within an hour.
Broze noted that Sioux, the head of security for the frontline camp off North Dakota Highway 1806, said those who started the fires were not with the Water Protectors. Apparently intent on forcing their tactics upon the movement, these outside forces appeared uninterested in listening to the Standing Rock Sioux or other Native Water Protectors.
Although the black bloc tactic has been used as a legitimate way for protesters to shield their identities from law enforcement, it has also been exploited by law enforcement, Broze wrote. “Police masquerading as black bloc activists have been exposed at the 2001 G8 Summit in Italy, at protests in 2007 in Quebec, and police posed as activists to infiltrate the Occupy Movement.”
Regardless of whether or not the people who burned the trucks were hired provocateurs, police abandoned the trucks knowing that they would be vandalized, and used that to justify closing Highway 1806 indefinitely. These are the underhanded tactics that police resort to while terrorizing people who put their lives on the line performing acts of peaceful resistance.
The last time the American police state got this devious and violent with peaceful protesters was in 2011 when the Occupy Movement spread awareness around the globe. In response, a federally orchestrated crackdown swiftly evicted dozens of urban protest encampments that had popped up across America. Evictions were justified citing public health and safety, just as we saw at Standing Rock.
In reality, the Occupy encampments were deemed a threat to national security and financial stability because they raised awareness surrounding the fact that our currency is controlled by a private banking cartel. With near limitless power of the purse, these banksters exert undue influence across the spectrum of civilization.
A movement that wont wither
To this day the seeds sown by the Occupy Movement are still growing an enhanced awareness about the corrupt and crumbling foundation of the current financial system, a system that fails to adequately serve the vast majority of humanity and drives the shortsighted investment and development that is decimating nature and life across the globe.
However, the Water Protectors still bravely stood up for clean water, challenging the oil pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners in court. But on Tuesday a federal judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River tribes to halt construction of the final piece of the Dakota Access Pipeline, NPR reported. Now Water Protectors and Natives like Lott will come together for the Native Nations Rise March 10 in Washington, D.C. “Little Wind and I will be at the [march]. After that we plan to travel to other Water Protector camps around the country to share what we learned at Standing Rock,” Lott said.
The DAPL is designed to pump fracked oil from North Dakota to Chicago so it can be shipped overseas. Fracking for fossil fuels pollutes groundwater and causes earthquakes. The pipelines don’t do well during earthquakes because all that shaking and shifting can cause them to break.
DAPL is designed to ship fracked oil from the Bakken Fields to Chicago at $8 per barrel, $6 less than it currently costs to take it by train. ETP hopes the pipeline will carry 470,000 barrels per day. At a rate of $8 per barrel, the company should gross about $1.4 billion per year on a $4 billion initial investment.
It’s all about making money, and one way ETP is more profitable is by employing very few people: if completed the pipeline will only need approximately 20 workers along it’s 1,134 mile length.
During construction, of course, hundreds of police collected paychecks for sitting around in idling vehicles, terrorizing citizens engaged in civil disobedience, and protecting a private construction site. Meanwhile Water Protectors encamped in an impoverished area were criticized for setting up GoFundMe accounts. The absurdity of the situation is painful to dwell upon.
At a loss for words, I’ll leave you with something hopeful that Lott told me recently:
“I wish everyday Americans could see the sacrifices we made here trying to protect sacred land and water, rather than focusing on the propaganda and drama that surrounds every movement. Thousands came in December to support Indigenous resistance, and this movement has inspired millions. Now that we have been forcibly removed from the camps at Standing Rock it is time to heal and reflect.”
“I grew so much emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically,” Lott continued. “Oceti helped me become a warrior and now that the sacred fire has been put out at all camps, it is time to let the fire burn in our hearts and utilize our resources we have gained here, share the skills that were acquired with others, educate people on what to expect if a similar situation threatens their ancestral lands.
“It was bittersweet leaving, but I know this movement is far from over. There are thousands of Water Protectors who will train thousands more. We will defeat the ‘black snake.’ The prophecy says the 7th Generation will kill the snake, and that is us. From what I have seen these past several months, our ancestors predicted certain situations from the unification of the condor (South American Natives) and the eagle (North American Native), to the rise of the 7th generation, to the Rainbow Nation joining forces with the Red Nation. All of that happened at Standing Rock and now it is time to make our ancestors proud.” PJH