It is not often that you get to pull the curtains back on your perception of the world. To get a first hand look at how our view of reality is often guided by voices that are intentionally misguiding us in the form of slanted media coverage, corporate agenda, and political games of smoke and mirrors. Our images of the world are often force fed and intended to rid us of the burdens of truth. The belief of those in power is that they can suppress the truth, demonize those standing against them, and feed you the stories that are more palatable to the sense of reality that they have chosen for us. Only when we remove ourselves from that comfortable diet of misinformation and deception do we get a brief glimpse at the truth.
Something told me that there was more going on than met the eye here in North Dakota and that I needed to see for myself what the #NoDAPL #WaterIsLife movement is about. I had a sense that there was a good deal of diversion and misinformation being handed out by the major media (CNN, FOX, MSNBC and their affiliates). There was such limited coverage and what seemed to be an urgency to get on to the next topic whenever it was being discussed. Watching coverage of the presidential election debates, and media sessions there was almost no discussion of the issue at all. When candidates were asked by audience members to state their positions on DAPL, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, everyone was diverting or deflecting with no discussion or elaboration of their position on the topic. The stories that were available in mainstream press would use terms like "Hostile Protestors" or worse "Violent Protestors" to describe the Native Americans and other activists there protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. That familiar intent to demonize seemed to be present with the content of the articles claiming a disruption to "progress" that would have created jobs, a windfall for the local residence, and tax revenues. Things just seemed too conveniently manicured in their story lines, and they were. With some further investigation I found out that one of the articles that I had read with the claims of "fortunes to be made" was actually written by a leading seat on one of the Energy Boards that has a financial interest in the pipeline's completion.
Maybe it was my recent awakening and interest into Native American history that fueled some of the fire that led me to my desire to find out for my self what was happening. I had recently read several accounts and perspectives from "The Trail of Tears" which left me with the realization that as much as we have condemned the actions of Hitler, Stalin, and other notorious leaders who used genocide and hereticide.. That our country's beginnings were founded in them. Settlers even being paid "per head" for killed Natives. Given no other choices the natives were forced to give up their lands, their history, their language, and their religions. Inconvenient truths that are not found in our textbooks as children. Instead, we are told about the deals that were made and broken with the tribes for their lands. Not that the deals were made with a pen in one hand, and a knife in the other.
The root of the problem here is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the current planned route which takes the pipeline directly through Native American protected lands, sacred burial grounds and directly across the main water source for the local populations including the Native American Tribes in the area. The lands that are promised to the local Tribes and protected in treaties dating back to 1851. They are concerned for the wellbeing of their people and everyone who relies on the rivers flowing through those lands for their primary water source. The environmental impact that the pipeline will most likely have on the environment and wildlife.
There have already been thousands of pipeline leaks in the US which have had significant impact on the environments in those areas, including water contamination in areas that the pipeline has traversed streams and rivers yet the oil industry maintains claims that the pipeline will be "Safe" and "will not impact the environment".
Sites where Pipeline Leaks have occurred in North America
I arrived in Bismarck, ND on Wednesday without so much as a plan. Some extra frequent flyer miles and hotel points were enough to get me here, but I really had no clue what to do, or who to talk to once I got here. I hadn't found many accounts of what people found when they got here, or how they had gotten involved. I had some skepticism about information that I was able to find, simply because some of the accounts of misleading information and potential targeting methods that are being used by the local law enforcement agencies to find and curtail people from coming to protest. I spent Wednesday evening looking through maps and location tags on the internet to get a general idea of where the camps were located. Thursday I attempted to make contact with a few individuals from the tribe that seemed to be directly involved through social media but really hadn't received any response. In hindsight, given the threat and accounts of "infiltrators" and undercover agents posing as protesters to gain information, I can fully understand why I hadn't received any response. I also spent time watching the local media and some debates for local open representative seats. The story I heard was much the same "Hostile Protesters", and "economic boom" rhetoric that I had been hearing elsewhere. I had made up my mind though and decided that if I hadn't heard from anyone by Thursday night, I would make an educated guess and just try to get to the location based on the maps I had found. Friday morning I went and picked up some supplies to donate. Things that I had figured would be needed and worth taking. I packed up 10 cases of water, about 30 or 40 lbs of fruit, apples, oranges and bananas. Then bought five blankets and sleeping bags to take as well. Hopped in the car and set up the GPS for one of the camp sites I had found (Sacred Stone). This took me south on 1806 from Bismarck and it wasn't long before I was seeing signs that the local law enforcement does not want to make the route in very easy. Road closed signs started about 26 miles away from the Sacred Stone site. I pressed on to see how far I could follow the road before the trail ended. I hadn't known at the time that the road is blocked about 2 miles north of the Sacred Stone camp as I found out as I got further down the road. I attempted to take a side road thinking that I could route myself around the blocked road somehow and not have to backtrack too much. After turning down the nearly dirt road (only nearly due to some sparse gravel that is thrown down on it) about two miles in I reach two patrol cars blocking two different directions. One of the officers seeing me started to get out of his vehicle and make his way towards me. I rolled down the window to talk to the officer who asked me "where do you think you're headed?". I just made up an excuse that I was looking to get back to the highway but could see he wasn't really buying it. He offered no directions but instead said "you're just going to have to go back the way you came, you can't turn here". So I had to turn back and go back to 1806 and backtrack... about 20 miles... Then I found a different route when my GPS finally picked back up which took me 186A (I think) to 6 South. So far I've already got about two hours of road time as the result of my misrouting. Route 6 ended up a good path though. I took this until I found a small sign with an arrow pointing in the direction of "Sacred Stone Camp Site", which was also landmarked by two Law Enforcement control center trucks with Satellites on top. I finally arrived at the site about three hours after setting out from Bismarck, although the trip is actually only about an hour and a half if you take the more direct route.
At the camp I was greeted at a barbed wire gate by someone, asked some basic questions , then given directions to the donations tent. The campsite is pretty small with not much room to drive through but I was able to get to the donations tent and drop off the fruit and other items that I had brought. The people were very gracious and the conversations immediately shifted from what I had to offer them, to them asking what I needed and if there was anything they could do for me. I let them know I wanted to get my lay of the land and figure out how I could help out and asked about the best places to leave my car. I moved my car to an area that others were parking as well. I ran in to a guy who had come from Washington state a few weeks back and he began telling me about the different camps, and where the protest areas were. He also explained some of the events that had happened over the couple of weeks that he had been there, including how his tent and possessions had been bulldozed by DAPL Security people when they destroyed the Northern camp just a few days prior. Included in the items that were bulldozed and destroyed were Native American ceremonial artifacts and Eagle feathers. This had taken place with no warning, the DAPL Security and law enforcement people had come in military gear and started spaying people with mace, pepper spray and shooting rubber bullets at them to corral the people, arrest 143 people and then run the camp down. Later during the week the Law Enforcement brought the items scooped up by the bulldozers and dumped it in the Oceti Sakowin camp, just to the north of Sacred Stone which is on Native land, but only after urinating and defecating on the items which were already ruined. The more my new friend spoke, the sicker I felt knowing that this story is not getting out to the rest of the country.
After talking to some of the people in Sacred Stone, it was clear that if I wanted to participate in the protests that I would need to go to the Oceti Sakowin camp which was now at the front of where protest lines where now drawn. It's about a 20 minute walk from the Sacred Stone to the Oceti camp, 30 if you're out of shape like me. On the way I met someone who came to the camp from Portland Oregon two months ago and had been here since then. He had a strong accent and I could tell he hadn't been in Portland very long prior to coming here either. He had immigrated and was Palestinian coming to the US only two years ago. When I asked him why he came to protest, he just simply said "because what is happening here is wrong". It's colonization all over again, just like what is happening with Israel and Palestine currently in many ways. The Native Americans land, heritage, and way of life being stolen all over again. Talking to him further I found out that he had been arrested during the destruction of the Northern Camp and charged with a felony as a result of that altercation. I asked him what he was doing when it happened and he said "standing in prayer". They grabbed him from behind and drug him to the ground after spraying him with Mace. The conversation with him led me to believe that he is a gentle soul, the descriptions of what took place were very matter of fact and casual. No incredulous "Oh my god you wouldn't believe what they did" type of embellishing statements that usually clue you in to something that is half-truth. He was a sane, reasonably thinking Dude. He walked with me over to the camp but didn't desert me there when we arrived. Instead, he started showing me around and trying to get me to get something to eat and some water. He kept saying that you have to take care of yourself while your here so that you are able to do what you can to help out. He took me to the donations tent at this site and insisted that they get me a tent and blankets. I told him I had brought a sleeping bag and a blanket, but he said "man, it gets damn cold here at night, you're going to want some extra". They got me a tent and a blanket and asked if I needed some clothes or anything else. There is no money changing hands, these are gifts of their gratefulness for the support that people are providing them. Food, shelter, clothing, anything you might need to settle in to the camp site was provided. No expectations to receive anything in return. Thankfully I had brought the things I had so that my own guilt of accepting the items was somewhat satisfied. In our world, you don't get something for nothing. Here, there were no such expectations.
I set off to set up my tent, get my things together, and parted ways with my Palestinian friend who promised he would catch up with me later to make sure I was ok. The tent, I discovered, was not much of a whole tent. It had been donated after all and it appeared that the main portion of the tent was missing, with only the windscreen tent cover left in the bag. I knew tents were a hot commodity after my conversations with the volunteers in the donations tent, so I decided to make a go with what I had and use some ingenuity to get the desired results. I was able to get the Windscreen put up, but there was a good bit of open air on all sides. I had remembered seeing some tarps in the volunteer tent so I went back and grabbed a couple. I placed the tarps over the sides to cover as much as I could to block out as much wind as possible. There was still some pretty big gaps but it would keep the rain off me if the weather decided to change. I laughed to one of my camping neighbors and said I just call the place "camp hood rat". You can find a lot of ingenuity in the hood and this was a good example of making do with what I had available.
Next I needed to see what I could do. I didn't want to be here if I wasn't participating and helping out where I could so I went to the volunteer tent to see what they needed done. I was told they needed help in the art tent so I headed over there to see what they needed done. Mind you I have absolutely no artistic talent so I really didn't know what help I could offer, but I'm game to try. I learned that they were making screen prints for the "warriors" who would be marching or protesting. They were using donated sheets and fabric and screen printing a number of #NoDAPL, #WaterIsLife and other slogans on the fabric. My job was to help cut the pieces needed, which were just some squares. I worked with another older guy to get the pieces cut that we needed. It was here that I noticed just how diverse the population of the camp was. The older gentlemen I was with looked like he may have been one of the original hippies from the 60s who went out, made his money, retired, and is now back at being an activist. The guy running the tent was in his late 20s and knew the screen printing process so he was in charge. I have to admit, I probably saw more white people with dreadlocks than were at Burning Man this year. But with a few thousand people now in the camp, it is very much a microcosm of the rest of the world in there with people of all types and cultures there to participate. It made me feel good that there are still causes that can resonate to all walks of life, and that this was an important one that we could all see. After a few hours it was time to head back to my campsite as it was starting to get dark. There were Native singers in the main camp areas that were singing songs and prayers. The hostility being reported by the media was seeming greatly overstated, but I had expected this anyway.
Once at my campsite I was feeling in my back the work that I had done and decided I needed to lay down for a bit. I laid out my sleeping bag and stretched out over it. After a bit of nodding off, I hear a voice "are you going to be ok in there?". It was a Native lady who was in a camper next to my "camp hood rat" accommodations. She said, "You're going to get cold in there when the wind starts blowing tonight". Then she asked if I wanted another sleeping bag, and that she had an extra one she could give me. They were packing up their camper to move to another site to go meet with some others who had also come from Greenbay where they were from. She began to tell me about how this was the first time in known history that all of the US tribes were united for a single cause, and how this was actually part of a tribal legend. Their legend said that a Great Black Snake would come to destroy the land and that all of the tribes would unite to stand against it. They see the pipeline as this foretold Black Snake and it seems fitting. Rather than a snake of skin and bone, it's one of steel, indifference and greed. It seems that the government truly doesn't care about the impacts to the Native People, or to the other populations living around this snake's path. They seem only interested in supporting the interests of the oil companies, banks and other investors in the pipeline. The promise of money flowing in to pockets more important that clean water flowing to support life. There is an intent to suppress the information coming out of here, and cloud the information that does with accusations of protestor violence, or misbehavior. While I haven't seen the protest area which is now by the river, this is something I am having more and more difficulty in believing after hearing everything I've heard over the short time I've been here. She then told me about her sister who also had been arrested while performing a ceremonial prayer. Her sister was also charged with a felony stemming from an incident where tires had been set on fire to prevent the DAPL security from entering Native American land. The insidious part is that the fire had taken place a few days before her arrest and she had nothing to do with it. She then explained that law enforcement was charging people with whatever they felt like and in most cases all were felonies. Bail an out-of-pocket $1500 minimum and departments requiring cash payment. They would not let anyone being arrested use credit cards or other payment methods. It seemed that they wanted to make things as difficult as possible to keep people in as long as they could before them being released. Additionally, because the protesters were too much for the local jail to house, they had set up chain linked fencing in areas similar to dog kennels in which they would put people in until they could move them to other jails in the area. Sometimes, as with the case of her sister, these jails were 3 and 4 hours away in Fargo or other places. They were not being allowed phone calls and had no way to contact family or friends to let them know where they were being held. Her sister was lucky that an Attorney that has been working with the Tribes found her and got her some assistance to get the bail placed. There had been some donations to help with legal fees that were used to get her out. While she is out on bail, she will still have to stand for the charges. She is hopeful that the charges will be dropped, but uncertain what will happen. What she described was beyond a peaceful protest. They were in prayer when the police forces began firing the Pepper Spray and Rubber Bullets into the protesters. There is so much that is wrong with the actions being taken by the law enforcement and security forces here it would take me another book worth of information to cover it all. I will let you do some reading where you can and see for yourself the willingness to trample on civil liberties they are engaged in daily.
One thing I had noticed soon after arriving at camp is the planes and helicopters circling overhead. In Native airspace no less! I kept wondering why the constant surveillance was so necessary as there were no acts of violence happening here. No disruption or disobedience to occur as this is the Natives own land. Then I learned their purpose. The planes are carrying cellular jamming equipment to block and prevent any information getting out about what is happening. There were also drones being flown over the camp to surveil the areas.
That first night was cold, damn cold! The temperature dropped to about 23 degrees Fahrenheit and my little sleeping bag and blanket weren't doing much good against the wind that was blowing straight through my makeshift tent. That and the planes flying overhead made it difficult to sleep at all. I may have gotten about two hours in when I heard the morning call for prayer from the Tribal leader at about 6:30am coming over the PA. "Get up!, today is going to be a great day!" He said. I got up and made my way to the main camp area where the speakers and prayers were happening. The morning prayer consisted of a song to welcome the morning and thank the creator. Then more songs and showing gratitude for all who have come to be with them during this time to stop the Black Snake from destroying their lands, rivers and communities. I helped out for a couple hours during the morning and then walked back to the Sacred Stone camp so that I could drive back in to Bismarck to take a hot shower to sooth my aching back a bit, and see if I could find something to help keep warmer that night at the camp site. When I arrived back at the camp I again parked at Sacred Stone although I knew now that there was a route to the Oceti camp and parking available there too. I guess I was just thinking it was probably the safest place for it, and being a rental I didn't want to take too many chances. There have been stories of cars being impounded and other things happening that it just seemed better to go the safe route with it. I walked back to the camp and went to the 2pm water protectors training. This is required for anyone who wants to take part in the official protest lines, up at the front of the protest area. Here they teach non-violent actions and discuss what can and does happen during the protest. They emphasize that their mission is non-violence and that no one is to strike out at the police, or seek to provoke them. They discuss the prayers that they plan and how they will arrange. They remind everyone that the protest is not about the police, and that they are there doing what they believe to be there jobs no matter what the injustice may be. The DAPL officials are the ones this protest is directed at and that forgiveness should be offered to the officers involved. There is no discussion of any offensive action, only how to avoid injury or what to do if you are maced, pepper sprayed or shot with rubber bullets and where to seek medical attention. They also discuss what to do if arrested. After the training I helped out a bit in the donation center before heading to the main camp area to listen to some more of the prayers and song before calling it a night.
The second night was not much better than the first, temperatures were still very cold and the wind was unforgiving to someone with missing tent walls. By morning, again after only sleeping about two hours, my back was miserable and so rather than heading to the morning prayer, I laid and stretched out for awhile before heading out to find things to do for the camp. Today there is a "March and Prayer of Forgiveness" planned where we will walk from the camp to the local police station to offer forgiveness to those officers who have participated in this. The police have been notified that this march is taking place and they have given the Ok for the tribe to perform this ceremony. All that can be hoped is that peace will be maintained and that the officers will keep there word in allowing it.
This trip has been transformative for me in many ways. This has shown me with certainty that what is happening here is wrong. That the stories that are making their way to the surface are mostly inaccurate (when not coming from Tribal sources). Most importantly it has made me painfully aware of the distortion of truth that results when corporate interests are at state. When the media is owned by the corporate interests, and the government is also corrupted by those interests, you can trust very little when you haven't been present for them. It is not even as simple as seeing things with your own eyes in video, as the narratives provided with the images you see are often polluted by the same interests.
The DAPL Pipeline is WRONG!! What the government is doing here is wrong and there is no way of stopping this unless the people speak out! The media is drowning this with fodder from the political campaigns to pacify the viewers rather than reporting the truth about this situation. How there is no media from CNN, MSNBC, FOX, or their affiliates here at all is beyond comprehension to me. It's time to start pressuring them to do so! It's time to contact your representatives and let them know it's time to work for the people, not big money and corporate interests. #NoDAPL #WaterIsLife #MiniWiconi