Return From Standing Rock: What Must Be Done Now

Leaving from Carbondale
Leaving from Carbondale

On November 21st, I arrived in Standing Rock with donations from many people from the Carbondale community. I brought my brother who is an expert in heating and cooling, my two kids Rose and Rex, the Rev. Pallas Standford, and Gabby who helped organize supplies from the Roaring Fork Valley and wanted to go to Standing Rock.

The camp is on sacred ground, and the entire time one must be in prayer. I did witness some white people engage the experience as though it were a festival which was unwelcome. However, the majority of people were wishing to be helpful and wanting to take native leadership. There were huge crowds at the daily orientations, and soon, I saw people at work. People went through the overflowing dumpsters to sort out recycling and things that were still useable. There were people building structures, sorting the food donations at the main food kitchen, and thousands of people participating in the direct actions.

The indigenous people I knew were from the Indigenous People Power Project (IP3) and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). The tents that were purchased here in the valley were given to these groups. IP3, along with the Ruckus Society, organizes daily direct action training since to be camping on the land there is technically a direct action.

This camp smelled amazing as there were always the burning of sage and tobacco and cedar in the sacred fires throughout the camp. Every day started with songs and prayer, and many elders were walking in their full ceremonial dress.

At the commissioner's meeting
At the commissioner’s meeting

The second night I was there I was asked by IP3 to go with my fellow veterans to the Morton County Commissioner’s meeting to speak about the police escalating violence and to call for the resignation of the Sheriff. You can watch the result of that meeting here:

The third day was the colonial day of Thanksgiving. We were asked to remain in prayer and to fast on this day since, for many native peoples, it is a somber occasion; this day is the marking of the genocide of their peoples. We were asked by the native peoples to go to Turtle Island where ancestors of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe are buried. The land is being constantly desecrated with police standing on top of these grave sites.  When I had first gone to Standing Rock on November 3rd native peoples had tried to get the police off of the hill. They were met with rubber bullets and mace. This time, thousands of people went to Turtle Island. We crossed using canoes and a bridge made out of plywood and styrofoam. The police said they would compromise: if the people left the island so would the police. J.R. American Horse, one of the elders, asked the people to leave the island. After mass prayer and song with thousands of people we did leave the island. Some police responded to the invitation to remove their hats and joined in the prayer through this symbolic gesture and then left.

Thousands on Turtle Island
Thousands on Turtle Island

During this time I made a statement about the police violence and the militarization of the police, which you can watch here:

That evening was the coldest evening yet. All of the jugs of water we had left outside froze solid and everything was covered with frost as snowflakes came down. I woke early and got fire and food going for our camp which was well received for those of us who had been fasting the previous day. My children felt they were too cold, even with their heavy winter gear, so I made arrangements to leave. IP3 plans to use the camp for the upcoming veteran’s call this weekend. We prepared the camp for this use by leaving a good supply of water, firewood, and propane for those who would come after us.

Part of the camp we left for others
Part of the camp we left for others

Others in the camp went to Bismarck for the day to protest the over consumption of our society which causes us to need so much oil.

All in all, we donated four tents, three wood stoves, several rolls of carpet, six boxes of meat, 80 gallons of propane, a lot of firewood, and other cold weather gear. My brother helped install and fix 5 wood stoves and set up three semi-permanent structures while Gabby helped prepare a Thanksgiving meal with other people from Carbondale. You can read about our community’s support to Standing Rock in this article from the Post Independent:

Gabby stayed behind
Gabby stayed behind


So what’s next?

The Army Corps of Engineers has asked the group to leave its land, voluntarily by December 5th. The response from tribal leaders is that they can not be persuaded to leave their own land – the camp is on land never ceded by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The Corps responded by saying that they will not forcibly remove anyone from this land but that people on the land past December 5th will be subjected to ticketing and arrests.

December 4th two major actions are being planned. One is a call for veterans to engage in non-violent protest of the pipeline, and it is estimated thousands of veterans are responding to this call put out by Wesley Clark Jr. The other call is for clergy to come and lend spiritual support to help everyone to remain in prayer as tensions escalate.

Since the camp will continue past December 5th, we should resolutely continue to send our support through supplies – serious winter gear, plywood, firewood, hay bales, etc. The community will have another meeting on November 29, at 7:30pm to plan out its response. Another way we can support is to continue to put pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers to not grant the permit, to allow native peoples to remain on their land, and to pressure investors by protesting outside of major banks and encouraging others to invest locally in banks like Alpine Bank.


The pipeline isn’t on reservation land, so what’s the big deal?

It would cross under Lake Oahe, which is a dammed up part of the Missouri river, so if there is a leak the water supply of the reservation would be contaminated.

But aren’t pipelines safer than rail or trucking?

When a truck or rail car tips over, you spill just the container. When a pipeline leaks or breaks, it pumps thousands of gallons out before it is shut off. So a pipeline is a *cheaper* way to transport oil, but it is not safer than rail or trucking. Energy Transfer Partners justified this pipeline because it said there were not enough railways to support the transport of oil. For example, a Sunoco pipeline in Pennslyvania leaked 26,000 gallons of gas in a river until it was shut off. Sunoco just bought Energy Transfer Partners. Sunoco also has a terrible record for oil spills:

Aren’t there pipelines in North Dakota already?

Yes, there are about 7,000 miles of pipeline in North Dakota. Leaks are under-reported to keep the public unaware as many elected officials are financed by out of state oil and gas companies. Here is an article about a recent leak not far from Standing Rock which has spread out over 7 acres:

Can you give me an example of a public official not acting in the interest of the public? 

Governor Dalrymple (R) of North Dakota had received over $550,000 for his campaign from the oil industry that is invested in projects all over the state. While this isn’t unusual for other states Governor’s campaigns in oil-rich states, Dalrymple is the Chairman of the Industrials Commission which oversees the oil and gas industry. He also owns stock in oil companies including at least one that does regular business thru the Industrials Committee he chairs. This is a complete conflict of interest and he needs to step down from the Committee immediately or face a recall. Not to mention he declared a state of emergency which brought in the National Guard and 75 different law enforcement agencies to protect not just his campaign financiers but quite possibly his own personal investments and the taxpayers are paying for it.

Wasn’t there a plan for the pipeline to go near Bismarck? 

The Army Corps of Engineers did plan for the pipeline to go around Bismarck. The public never saw this plan because the Army nixed it – they were, ironically, concerned about the drinking supply. “Army corps plans changed due to threat to Bismarck drinking water – In its environmental assessment, the Corps rejected the Bismarck route to protect wells that serve the municipal water supply, according to The Bismarck Tribune.” From: This is environmental racism, because the Army Corps was concerned about Bismarck’s drinking supply but not about the drinking supply for the Standing Rock Tribe reservation.

Did the Standing Rock Tribe refuse to attend meetings about the pipeline?

This is something Energy Transfer Partners accused of the tribe, however, the tribe released an audio recording of a meeting held in 2014 in which they voiced their concern about the pipeline being built underneath their drinking water supply.

Isn’t it dangerous to be at the camp opposing this pipeline?

I went there with my children. It is cold, so it is important to be prepared for that. The camp is prayerful, peaceful, and no one is armed. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited. It is not a music festival, people are to be in prayer the entire time as the land is ancestral land. Police have escalated tensions numerous times, and this has been documented by the United Nations human rights observers. However, this has happened north of the camp, on Turtle Island and on Highway 1806, not in the main camp itself.

Is the camp going to be evicted?

Since the main camp, Oceti Sakowin camp, is not on reservation land but on un-ceded territory of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe the Army Corps of Engineers claims, the Corps does have jurisdiction over the land. They have asked people to leave the area and will set up a “free speech” zone. They further clarified that they would not forcibly remove anyone. Rather, they will set up a blockade to the area and anyone entering the area would be subject to tickets or arrests.

What about the pipeline?

It is nearly finished, the final portion being the drilling underneath Lake Oahe which the Army Corps of Engineers has not granted the permit for. They have drilled down as far as they can without going underneath the river. The Army Corps of Engineers wants to meet with the tribe to consider their objections. As it stands, it is permitted incorrectly as it should have had one permit for the entire project, there is a lawsuit against it for being on 1851 treaty lands, and another lawsuit against the sale of private land in violation of North Dakota law.

Should I go?

At this point, if you are not a medic and are not going to be able to stay long the advice is to not come. The people there need all the supplies they can for those who are going to stay for the winter. If you can stay for a week or longer or are bringing essential supplies for the good of the camp, go.