[Editor's note: The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services stated reports the water supply to protesters has been cut off are inaccurate. In Washington, D.C., Susan Sarandon and Shailene Woodley rallied in solidarity. Click here to take action.]
CANNON BALL, N.D. — Around the numerous tents sprinkled amongst the hills along the northernmost border of the Standing Rock Reservation, tribal members continue strategic planning and prayers in their fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing the nearby Missouri River.
Different areas of the camp have specific designations, including an area where tribal members participate in sacred rituals, including a sweat lodge, where access is restricted to preserve the sanctity of the ceremonies.
Near the entrance of the campsite, different informational tents are set up to provide demonstrators with advice, supplies and other information prudent to continuing a nonviolent protest while keeping everyone involved safe.
With limited resources, the camp must rely on volunteers and the goodwill of others to provide supplies.
One man’s job is to keep the fires burning with a steady feed of wood.
In another tent, hot food is prepared and given out to anyone who wants a meal.
A Standing Rock Sioux Tribe ambulance stands by in case a medical issue arises, especially since many of the demonstrators do not have access to daily medications in the remote, isolated area.
Despite the hardships, the spirit and will of protesters who want to keep the river safe is abundant.
Members from at least 200 tribes from across the U.S. have joined the protest in an effort to protect both the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s main water source and the rights of the American Indian people. They don’t want the Dakota Access Pipeline to go beneath the river, fearing a leak will contaminate the river with crude oil. The 1,134-mile pipeline would carry as much as 450,000 gallons of crude oil per day from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Illinois.
American Indian Movement official Chief Harry Goodwolf Kindness said this is the first time in more than 150 years that so many members from so many tribes have joined together.
“First time since the Battle of Greasy Grass, so it’s been a long time,” Kindness said.
Known by most white people as the Battle of Little Big Horn, it was in June 1876. Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes defeated U.S. Army forces led by George Custer.
“We refer to this pipeline as the black snake. This pipeline affects everybody, not just the Indian Nation. It’s no different than somebody putting it right in downtown Los Angeles,” he said.
For Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member James Iron Eyes, the protest campsite resembles the tribal campsite stories his grandmother told him about when he was a child.
“My grandma told me a long time ago there were camps along the river near Mobridge, and it’s kind of like that now,” Iron Eyes said.
He has been involved with the protest since it started on Aug. 10.
“I came out here the first day and it felt good. You can just feel the power. It’s a great feeling,” he said.
Iron Eyes took a break from directing traffic at the campsite entrance to visit the nearby pipeline construction site, which workers abandoned on Aug. 15.
Flags from all the visiting tribes fly along the fence surrounding the construction site, exemplifying the solidarity of the Indian Nation in the fight to protect its rights and the water that sustains not only the lives of members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but all who prosper from the Missouri River.
After working in the Bakken oil fields, Iron Eyes has seen firsthand the destruction crude oil can cause.
“It was a job, you know, but after seeing (the land) get torn up like that ...” Iron Eyes said, shaking his head.
“They can’t guarantee it’s not going to leak. The ground shifts. Why can’t they take (the oil) on railway cars in tanks or something? It’s slowed down up there so much now. The oil business is not as busy it was,” Iron Eyes said.
His frustration was amplified after a judge Wednesday delayed ruling on an injunction filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop the pipeline from going under the river.
The lawsuit claims that the environmental assessment permit was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers without adequate consultation from the tribe regarding the environmental impact and cultural historic preservation.
Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It in the Ground campaign organizer, said the camp is not going anywhere until there is no threat of the pipeline crossing the river.
“There is frustration with the lack of action by the federal judge. Obviously, we believe the arguments the tribe put forth are substantial,” Goldtooth said.
Attorney Michelle Cook, who works in the area of indigenous people’s law and policy in Tucson, Ariz., told demonstrators at the camp that the possibility of an injunction is not why construction stopped.
“The sheriff has said he will not allow them to do construction until it’s safe,” Cook said during a Thursday campsite meeting. “As long as this camp is sturdy and robust and in prayer, that pipeline is going to have a little trouble starting up again. Not because we are violent, but because we are present. We are present to protect the water,” Cook said.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said that from the first day of the protest the No. 1 concern has been public safety, regardless of beliefs.
“We wanted to make sure that it remained peaceful between the protesters, the workers who have the legal right to be there and the law enforcement officers. We have nothing to do with the pipeline. We don’t put in the pipeline. Like I’ve been saying, we’re not pro-pipeline, we’re not pro-protest, but we’re pro-law,” he said.
So far, there have been 29 arrests and 32 charges relating to the protest. All the charges have been misdemeanors, Kirchmeier said.
“They have the right to go there and the right to protest if they remain peaceful. There’s a difference between peaceful and nonviolent, also. They have the right to protest, but they don’t have the right to disrupt traffic, close a road, trespass on private property, disrupt law enforcement or legal activities, and some of those things obviously have been occurring. That is when the whole safety concern comes in that public safety is No. 1,” he said.
Kirchmeier’s department’s budget has taken a hit due to the overtime officers were required to work because of the protest.
“The numbers we’ve put together with the people we have now and the overtime, we’re at about $100,000 per week,” he said.
Kirchmeier said there are 34 sworn officers working in the department to cover Morton County, which has a population of just over 30,000 people.
The Morton County Commission chairman signed an emergency declaration resolution on Aug. 15 to tap outside law enforcement agencies.
Kirchmeier said the sheriff’s department is working in cooperation with law enforcement from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Cass County Sheriff’s Department, Fargo Police Department, North Dakota Highway Patrol, Stutsman County Sheriff’s Department, Dunn County Sheriff’s Department, McLean County Sheriff’s Department, Grand Forks Police Department and Emmons County Sheriff’s Department.
“We want to make sure we still have open communication with the Standing Rock tribal leaders and with the camp leaders. But I believe there are numerous people, the majority of people, who want to keep this protest peaceful. But there are some outside people that have come in that want to make this into a conflict. They want to get the protesters worked up, so there are professional agitators that are out there that want to make this more than, I think, just a pipeline issue,” Kirchmeier said.
Other than a small toddler who wriggled in his father’s arms, protesting nap time, there was no evidence of anything but peaceful demonstrators at the campsite Thursday.
“Everything is running pretty smoothly. Everybody is happy and visiting and getting to know people,” Iron Eyes said.
• Energy Transfer Partners is building the $3.8 billion, 1,134-mile pipeline that would carry as much as 450,000 gallons of crude oil per day from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Illinois.
• Dakota Access is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners.
• The pipeline construction site is less than a mile upstream from the Standing Rock Reservation boundaries on the Cannonball Buffalo Ranch.
• The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction on construction where the line crosses the Missouri River, citing that the project violates the Clean Water Act and fails to assess the environmental and cultural impact on tribal lands. A federal judge delayed a decision on the injunction. A ruling is expected by Sept. 9.
• Opposition against the pipeline gained momentum on Aug. 10 when protesters prevented Michels Corp. workers from beginning construction at the river.
• On Aug. 11, private security hired by the company constructing the pipeline made a report to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department of protesters inhibiting construction progress.
• On Aug. 15, Dakota Access moved equipment to the Missouri River crossing site. Demonstrators on horseback pushed back a law enforcement barricade. Work was halted, and pipeline workers evacuated area.
• On Aug. 17, the North Dakota Highway Patrol established a checkpoint on North Dakota Highway 1806 to direct southbound traffic to an alternative route around the protest site.
• On Aug. 19, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed an emergency declaration.
This article was originally published on Capital Journal. Reprinted with permission.
Watch actress and activist Susan Sarandon speak about the protest at a rally in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Washington, D.C.: