The Unfinished Pipeline that Reconnected an Ancient Nation

By. Josh Cozine

Disputed Areas:

The Dakota access pipeline has recently gained much media attention because areas of its construction began encroaching on lands sacred to Native Americans of the Sioux tribes back in April of this year. Though the construction zones for the pipeline are technically outside of the Standing Rock Reservation, this fact can be attributed to repeated instances of the US government not following established treaties wherein the Sioux must be consulted if there is going to be any potential construction or potential damages to their lands. The pipeline is also currently planned to cross under the Missouri River, which the Reservation and its people depend upon as their main water source, only a mile north and upstream of current Sioux territory.

It’s About the Water:

You need not look far to see that pipelines are far from safe. So it should come as no shock that the residents of the Standing Rock Reservation would respond to the construction of one so close that it could jeopardize the majority of their water, and thus their lands and health.The response since then has been massive. In April of this year Sacred Stone camp was set up in in order to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a few miles walking distance from the construction sites. In mere weeks the camp swelled and over flowed into several satellite camps, with averages estimating over four thousand people in total, with members from all 7 tribes of the Sioux Nation arriving, as well as other Native American tribes, and environmental and human rights activists from all walks of life.

Oceti Sakowin:

The largest of these camps is the Oceti Sakowin. When translated this phrase refers to the gathering of the seven bands of the Sioux, an event which until now has not happened in over a century, before the Battle of the Little Big Horn, when the tribes were still actively warring with the American Government. It was also at this camp that CSSC members and alumni spent much of their time helping out, after arriving at Sacred Stone in two cars filled with donations and supplies.

(Caption: Oceti Sakowin camp, seen from across the Missouri River. Photo credit: Theo LeQuesne and link to his blog)

Show Up to Help:

With numbers of over four thousand people a day in mostly tents and temporary structures it can be easy to imagine organization being a chaotic nightmare, but that’s not the case at any of the camps in Standing Rock. “Show up ready to help,” was one sentiment echoed by four CSSC members and alumni, Emily Williams, Minh Tran, Theo LeQuesne, and Francisco Ferreyra who arrived on September 8th after two days of driving.

Since everyone pitches in and volunteers to help out around the camps, everything runs together smoothly even with minimal oversight. In order to feed such huge amounts of people, kitchen tents are open all day serving meals to everyone staying. Minh recalled spending much of her time preparing the huge campfire, prepping, and then cooking food for more than forty people, with dishes afterwards, some inventory sorting, and then still trying to get out to post to facebook and other social media outlets trying to raise more awareness and donations. Theo would regularly spend four to five hours a day sorting through endless piles of inventory and donations to be distributed amongst the camps. Francisco helped with inventory and organization, as well as checking the countrysides with some of the Natives, looking for edible berries and mushrooms the Sioux have collected for generations in preparation of a very long stay. Emily spent even more time driving after her initial two day journey, transporting and receiving goods and making general supply runs before helping the others with inventory and cooking. EMT services and medic tents were set up by those with training, as well as classroom tents so children can continue to receive education during a prolonged stay.

Movement, Not a Protest:

Such a huge influx of people, and outpouring of public support seen at Standing Rock is “more than just a protest, it’s a movement,” expressed the visiting students when asked what made them decide to come all the way from California. Groups and representatives from hundreds of tribes have showed up to pledge their support and solidarity with the Water Protectors, as they often call each other amongst themselves, at Standing Rock. There has not been a gathering of Native American tribes of this size in generations. Men, women, and children of all ages and tribes are meeting up with ancestral relatives they have never before met. Rekindling old familial friendships, and uniting under one common cause: protecting the waters and lands of the Earth we all share. Furthermore, saying enough to the constant ignoring of treaties and promises made, and of having their rights ignored.

Committed to Nonviolence:

Despite having their water shut off by authorities, and roads in and out constantly blocked; despite having their sacred burial grounds bulldozed while the lands were still being disputed in the courts; despite having many of their members pepper sprayed and bitten by dogs (one a child) at the hands of a private security company, and despite seeing the pipeline continuing to be constructed just miles away from the river that to them means life, the Natives and others involved in the movement at Standing Rock remain dedicated to nonviolent activism. Emily noted that the violent actions perpetrated on members of the movement only served to further solidify people’s resolve in nonviolence, peace, and prayer.  According to Theo, along with CPR and first aid training offered at the camps, there was also nonviolent direct action training, which was compulsory to attend to be allowed near pipeline construction areas or pipeline workers and security forces. Francisco attended a training session to treat pepper spray victims.

(Caption: Top to bottom: A row of guard dogs with their handlers, deployed against civilians by a private company. A handler trying desperately to control his dog as Natives march in remembrance to their now desecrated sacred sites. A woman having her eyes rinsed after being pepper sprayed, again by a private security company, not law enforcement officers. Images from a video posted by, video may be graphic to some)

Youth Voice:

The Youth of the Standing Rock Reservation were among the first to respond to the encroaching pipeline. In April, when the camps were starting to form, it was largely youth who arrived first. In May, youths from the Standing Rock Reservation ran 500 miles first to appeal to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with petitions signed by over 100,000 people to no avail. They then ran another 2000 mile relay to Washington DC where they appealed directly to the USACE headquarters before holding a rally filled with song and prayer outside the White House. Since then youth at the Standing Rock camps have formed the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC) where they correspond and organize with indigenous youths and other environmental organizations around the world. Emily and Theo both mention sitting in on one of their council meetings and feeling and witnessing the energy and determination of these young people as one of their most memorable experiences of their stay. Francisco spent a lot of his time working and talking with people in the IIYC, “Everyone always talks about the impact to the youth, or taking care of the youth, but here they are standing up and taking things into their own hands,” he says regarding why he was so drawn to the group. From daily council meetings, to sorting through letters from around the world, to inviting elders to speak and share their wisdom, Francisco’s description of the Council is that of a well organized and highly motivated group of youths dedicated to having their message heard.

Preparing for Winter:

Construction for the DAPL is currently halted near the Missouri River. While the water protectors maintain an ever vigilant watch to ensure no further bulldozing or construction continue, Standing Rock has another challenge on its way, the coming winter. Winters in North Dakota frequently reach subzero temperatures. Combine this with the fact that most people are staying in tents and you have a recipe for disaster. Many people have been forced to leave the area for now, but still many remain, resolute in their cause. After returning back home, Theo and Emily set up a gofundme page and successfully raised over $2100, purchasing a high quality winter ready medic tent to be sent to the camps, but still more help is going to be needed if this movement is going to make it through the winter.

How to help:

If anything you have read moves you to want to donate or support the people of Standing Rock here are a few places recommended:

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s official website with a DAPL donation fund link at the top of the page

Legal fund for the Red Warrior camp, the frontline camp where protests are often staged from. Funds go to provide legal representation for those arrested or injured

A gofundme page for the members of the IIYC to purchase equipment and supplies for the harsh Dakota winter so they can maintain as large of a youth presence as possible

A list of needed supplies has also been released from the Sacred Stone camp if you would rather send supplies than money

If you feel so inspired as to want to show up and help with the movement in person, remember what this is. This is not some weekend festival-type protest where people show up to make their voices heard and disperse afterwards. This is about making a commitment to protect our water, our lands, and our future. Also remember where it is this is taking place. This is not happening in some mostly unused wilderness campsite or barren desert, this is taking place on Sioux Reservation land, near and even on top of sacred sites and burial grounds as old as the tribes themselves.

Lastly, you can help at home. Here is a diagram showing which banks and financial institutions are invested in the pipeline construction, and how much they have invested. If you have money with any of these institutions it might be time to consider what exactly it is they are doing with it.

Posted in California Student Sustainability Coalition Magazine.