Standing with Standing Rock: Day 3

Tuesday, November 29, 2016.

View of the camp after the blizzard. Our tent is the green one at the 2:25 mark, in the lower left hand corner. Facebook Live Video by Myron Dewey / Indigenous Rising Media.

View of the camp after the blizzard. Our tent is the green one at the 2:25 mark, in the lower left hand corner. Facebook Live Video by Myron Dewey / Indigenous Rising Media.

On any given day, an estimated 10,000 people live at the Oceti Sakowin camps at Standing Rock. To put the enormity of this community into perspective, if this were a city in Iowa, Oceti Sakowin would rank 39th out of 950 — bigger than Fairfield, Grinnell or Mount Pleasant.

The fact that so many passionate people have come together so quickly under such adverse conditions is almost hard to imagine. Even more impressive is that the infrastructure essential to a functioning city— housing, transportation, security, food, water, sanitation, public health, power — have been built, borrowed or jerry-rigged in less than four months.

Whether or not we stop the Dakota Access pipeline — and I believe we can and will — this miracle on the northern Great Plains is unparalleled. And it happened without city planners or zoning laws, under the guidance of a council of Native elders, with the tremendous energy and talent of thousands of people.

I’ll walk you through a few of these features.

Tipi under construction during the storm.

Tipi under construction during the storm.

Housing. The diversity of housing is as diverse as the people. Many stay in three-season tents. A lot of folks who are here for the entire winter have hunkered down with warmer, more spacious structures. Appropriately, the most common home here is a tipi.

Flags line Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street.” Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Flags line Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street.” Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Transportation. Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street” is not quite the width of a two-lane highway. It is lined with the flags of many Native nations. Other roads cut a random pattern criss-crossing the community. They are either dirt, mud or now hard-packed ice and snow. Like all the roads here, there are far more pedestrians than vehicles. Cars know their place, move slowly and often wait for foot traffic to pass.

As if to further emphasize the pedestrian focus of the roads, the recent blizzard just installed speed bumps in the form of snow drifts.

Security. So far the only security I’ve seen are the teams of 2-3 people who stop vehicles entering the camp. Think TSA. What exists here is the opposite. The routine is basically this: we roll down our window, the security guy asks where we’re going and if we’ve been here before, we smile and we’re on our way.

Ed assisting with dinner on a camp stove, peeling potatoes from his garden in Des Moines as Lyssa boils brussels sprouts and prepares vegetarian meatloaf. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Ed assisting with dinner on a camp stove, peeling potatoes from his garden in Des Moines as Lyssa boils brussels sprouts and prepares vegetarian meatloaf. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Food. There are now 8 or 9 kitchens at Oceti Sakowin. Lyssa and I volunteer at one today: Grandma’s Kitchen. We help prepare and serve supper for an estimated 400 people. The facility is divided into three areas, each in a separate tent. The smallest tent is the actual kitchen, equipped with four propane-fired stoves. Next to that is a larger space with a serving area, dish washing station and shelves for storing dry and canned goods. Finally, there’s the dining room, which has seating capacity for 50 — and yet somehow feeds 400.

Lyssa and I continue to cook most of our own food. This is tough in a blizzard. Enough said.

Water. Mini Wiconi. Water is Life. Oceti Sakowin takes the issue of water very seriously, so much so that I’m going to save that conversation for another blog.

Sanitation. Standard, chemically-based porta-potties are the backbone of Oceti Sakowin’s sanitation system. To say that they’re unpleasant places to visit is an understatement. As I stop in at one today, I think about the EcoCommodes we hauled along the length of the Climate March. The March’s mobile outhouses used sawdust instead of chemicals. When the “toilet” was full, instead of toxic waste, we had a byproduct that was compostable. As Oceti Sakowin continues to build systems that are more sustainable and eco-friendly, EcoCommodes would be worth looking into.

Public Health. We’ve paid two visits to the medic center, once to drop off supplies, once to volunteer. The center is made up of several separate tents that can handle 10-20 people at most. It includes one tent for western medicine, another for herbal treatments, another for massage, another for acupuncture. Lyssa volunteers to sort through a pile of snow-covered “stuff,” saving what she can and tossing the rest. Most stuff is salvageable, and Lyssa later delivers two bottles of hand sanitizer to the kitchen and a vial of eucalyptus oil to the herbal tent. My task is to light a fire in one of the tents, in a stove that had a stubborn streak and needed some coaxing.

Solar panels are everywhere at Oceti Sakowin. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Solar panels are everywhere at Oceti Sakowin. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Power. Wood is in high demand. Everywhere, there are piles of logs being converted into firewood. Even more impressive is the many solar panels that are popping up everywhere. Now that the three-day blizzard is passed, we’ll help construct solar barns donated by the Bold Alliance. As Manape LaMere told me yesterday, the buzz word for future of power at Oceti Sakowin is sustainability.

The incredible speed at which the water protectors have assembled such systems to meet the most basic human needs is a testimony to their passion for the cause. It’s also a testimony to the resilience and ingenuity of our species. More than anything, it’s a testimony to the wisdom and nature of the Native people who are rising again, at a time when we need what they have to teach us more than ever before.

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Standing with Standing Rock: Day 2

Our tent. And that's before it got really bad.

Our tent. And that’s before it got really bad.

Monday, November 28, 2016. I have a knack for timing: our first night in a tent at Standing Rock coincides with the first snowstorm of the season. It’s a soft, wet, gentle snow. Yet it clings to the walls of our tent, threatening to collapse the fragile structure. Repeatedly during the night, we pound on the tent walls to free them of snow.

There’s little wind, so the sounds of camp nightlife are audible and drift towards us from all directions. The sounds are abundant and loud. They continue late into the night. Singing and drumming. Voices joking and strategizing. Our tent remains warm and dry, but between camp noise and tent-wall snow removal duty, sleep is minimal.

The next morning, the weather goes from bad to worse, with more snow and high winds that lead to blizzard conditions. Lyssa and I opt for breakfast at the casino, which is both satisfying in terms of the price tag, and unsatisfying in terms of nutrition and quality.

Lyssa and Ed braving the blizzard en route to the meeting of elders in the dome.

Lyssa and Ed braving the blizzard en route to the meeting of elders in the dome.

Manape LaMere, a camp leader and one of the seven elders, invites us to a meeting of camp elders. Lyssa and I lean into the blizzard for the grueling ten-minute walk from our tent site to the dome.

We assemble in a cold, crowded structure heated by a wood stove. The air is filled with a cocktail of smoke from sage, wood and tobacco. With people constantly coming and going, bursts of blizzard air slip in through the dome’s entrance. The interior never warms up much.

The meeting is long, interesting, important. The Elders talk about tribal unity, and the importance of non-native allies remembering that they are guests, and not here to provide leadership. The camp is governed by Native leaders using traditional structures and time-honored procedures. This is likely to be foreign, uncomfortable to non-natives at the camp. It is easy for those of us from a western mindset to slip into a mode of benevolent, well-intentioned colonialism. It is easy for us to want to take over, insist on a “better” way to do things.

It is solid advice. White folk still have this imperial mindset, where are the ones to fix things, the ones who ride to the rescue.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, but as I listen, Dances With Wolves comes to mind, where it takes a white guy, Kevin Costner, to help the Indians figure out how to save themselves (of course, he fails).

Ed, Manape LaMere and Julie LaChappa. Julie partook in the Farmers Defense Camp and civil disobedience in Iowa.

Ed, Manape LaMere and Julie LaChappa. Julie partook in the Farmers Defense Camp and civil disobedience in Iowa.

At what point will European-Americans, as individuals and collectively, move beyond the failed notion that we have all the answers? Clearly, we have a ways to go if Congressman Steve King can disparage non-white constituencies as “sub groups,” while making the outrageous statement that historically, all valuable contributions come from whites.

After each of the Elders has spoken, Manape invites me to share with them what’s happening in Iowa in opposition to the pipeline. I am honored to have been given this opportunity, and talk about landowner and farmer resistance, upcoming court hearings, and Jessica Reznicek’s open-ended fast demanding revocation of Dakota Access’ permit.

They appreciate my report and the commitment of their allies in Iowa. But here at Standing Rock, this movement is more than just a fight against the pipeline. It is a movement of historic proportions. It is a movement that is just beginning, a movement involving the cultural revival of traditions, I believe, that will supplant the failed, non-sustainable paradigms that have dominated Western civilization.

I ask Manape what happens after the pipeline fight is over, once we’ve stopped the Black Snake.

“The traditional chiefs who’ve been appointed to lead this camp are looking to build a future that is sustainable and eco-friendly,” says Manape. “We’re a community where people are showing up with wonderful technology, whether it’s heating or cooling systems or just general power usage.”

“And this new form of government we’re building is breathing life into our people, reviving the significance of our treaties,” says Manape. “Some people get it, some people don’t. But what we’re doing is going to save non-Natives as well as Natives.”

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Standing with Standing Rock: Day 1

Sunday, November 27, 2016. Nothing about Standing Rock is normal or predictable. As Lyssa and I approach the Oceti Sakowin camps just north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, our GPS navigator announces, “In six miles, park your car and walk to your destination.”

We ignore these instructions, as well as the sign telling us that the road ahead is closed. “Is this right,” asks Lyssa. “Shouldn’t we have taken that turn back there?”

I confidently mutter a few words that belie my uncertainty. But we continue, and a few miles later over the crest of a hill, we gasp and fall silent. “Holy shit,” says Lyssa, as the sprawling, chaotic brilliance of Oceti Sakowin unfolds before us. The camps fill the valley, fill the imagination, defying all that is normal, conventional, acceptable.

the-sprawlng-camp-img_0946-sized-for-icontactI try to imagine the tipis of the Great Sioux Nation that once occupied these lands many years ago. I’m reminded that this movement is not simply about stopping an oil pipeline. As a coalition of our Native allies wrote, “Our fight is not just about a pipeline project. It is about 500 years of colonization and oppression. This is our moment, a chance to demand a future for our people and all people.”

delivering-supplies-img_0941-sized-for-icontactThere’s a check point at the camp entrance, and a young Native man tells us where to drop off donations. We have food, clothing, blankets and medical supplies, and each needs to be delivered to a different location. We get lost multiple times, ask directions, and each time receive conflicting instructions. The chaos visible from afar is quickly verified up close.

With our deliveries accomplished, we head across the Cannon Ball River to look for Mekasi Horinek, my colleague from Bold Oklahoma. We’re hoping to pitch our tent in Mekasi’s “neighborhood.” But given the massive size of the camps and nonexistent cell phone service, we’re unable to find him.

img_0961-copyFood service at the camps is stretched to the max, so we want to be as self-sufficient as possible. We set up our tent in a spot out of the wind on the south side of the Cannon Ball River. Lyssa pulls out her stove, and in less than an hour we’re enjoying a delicious meal of mac and cheese with peppers from my garden in Des Moines.

At dusk, along with a couple thousand other water protectors, we head to the nearby casino for a benefit concert featuring Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. Lyssa strikes up a conversation with a man who tells her he was in favor of the pipeline until just last week. He’s very offended by the violent tactics used against peaceful protestors, and now dead set against the pipeline. He thanks Lyssa for being here, thanks her for speaking out, and gives her a casino voucher worth $21.95.

The last few weeks, I’ve heard from more and more people who haven’t been involved with the pipeline fight but are now fired up and taking action. Opposition to fossil-fuel extraction and infrastructure is only going to continue to grow.

As we leave the concert, it’s just starting to snow. We crawl along, following a long line of vehicles back to the camps. This is Lyssa’s first time ever sleeping in a tent, and I tease her about her good fortune. “Not only do you get cold temps but you get snow, too.”

I am confident we can stay warm and dry. Any discomfort we encounter while tenting will be minimal compared to the hardship and injuries inflicted on water protectors who have been attacked mercilessly by law enforcement on several occasions.

Whether or not we’ll encounter such violence remains to be seen. Tomorrow, we hope to meet with camp leaders, share with them an update on what’s happening on the pipeline in Iowa, and help build cold-weather structures for those planning to stay at Standing Rock through the winter.

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Weaver a true ally in pipeline fight

Dear Friends,

obama-on-dapl-now-thisEvery day or two, there’s a new twist in the fight to stop the Dakota Access “Bakken” Pipeline. Last night, President Obama was asked about it on “Now This News.” (https://twitter.com/nowthisnews/status/793641140184461313). He spoke of the possibility of “rerouting” the pipeline. Sorry, Mr. President, but that’s not what we’re demanding.

If you are at all serious about climate change, you know full well that there is no safe “reroute.”

If you are the environmentalist we hoped and believed you were when you first campaigned in Iowa in 2007-2008, you know that this pipeline will eventually contaminate water and land where ever the inevitable spill(s) occur.

If you are true to the words you shared last year with our Native Allies at Standing Rock, you understand that a detour is not going to respect the passion and commitment they feel toward all land and water in their ancestral homeland, and beyond.

If the bond you formed with Iowans in 2008 still means something, you’ll empathize with the hundreds of farmers and landowners who have fought this pipeline for over two years, and you’ll stop this assault on their livelihoods and property rights.

So, no, we’re not interested in a “reroute.” We want this pipeline stopped. Period. And we are counting on you and the Army Corps of Engineers to do the right thing . . . and soon.

Kim Weaver speaks from the heart against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Climate Revolution Rally.

Kim Weaver speaks from the heart against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Climate Revolution Rally.

Among Iowa congressional candidates, there is only one who has been on our side in this pipeline fight: Kim Weaver — and she’s been with us from the beginning.

During my 400-mile walk along the pipeline route in 2015, I stayed with Kim in NW Iowa. Kim’s early opposition to the pipeline was strong and clear. She didn’t equivocate, hedge or pull any punches, as so many politicians are inclined to do. She was against the pipeline, and continues to speak out against it as she campaigns across western Iowa.

Kim is challenging Congressman Steve King. Yeah, that’s a tough assignment. But these are interesting and unpredictable political times. Kim’s running a great campaign. I fully support her, have donated generously, and hope you’ll take a couple minutes to do so, too. Here’s the link to her donation page: https://secure.actblue.com/contribute/page/weaverforiowaexpresss.

Beyond the pipeline, Kim and I share a lot of issues in common. I greatly admire her work with our elderly, which she does tirelessly, day after day. Her proposal for clean water is innovative, cost-effective and timely. And her policy proposals on education, health care and immigration make, well, a lot more sense than what we’re used to hearing from the Fourth District. Check out her website for more detail: http://weaverforcongress.nationbuilder.com.

Needless to say, I have never heard Kim malign an immigrant, foreigner, homosexual or Harriet Tubman. And I’ll bet you a dozen eggs she won’t decorate her congressional office with the confederate flag.

Thanks! – Ed Fallon

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