"Our second night at the camp law enforcement used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets on a crowd who had gathered peacefully. I had a chance to film, some of our crew helped with medical transport for folks who were going into hypothermia." —Jesse Roberts
For months, people have been gathering at the Oceti Sakowin camp on the Standing Rock Reservation in support of the water protectors battling the Dakota Access Pipeline. Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the access permit for the pipeline—but the fight isn't over.
Among the supporters are at least four Oregonians taking action. These are their stories, in their own words.
Jesse Roberts: Creative Director of Rise Up International.
On why he went to Standing Rock:
I was interested in going to Standing Rock to learn more about what was going on. I've been following the news and saw that it was the largest gathering of Native Americans in modern history. After seeing the national guard deployed and using violent methods towards peaceful people I knew I had to go out and film. In November we had a fundraiser in Bend through our non-profit Rise Up International. It was organized by Andy Fecteau & Mark Ransom. With the proceeds from that event along with donations to Cate Havstad we purchased winter supplies to donate to Oceti Sakowin camp. The community of Bend has been very generous.
On what the media is getting wrong:
In extremely cold weather volunteers chop wood, winterize, sort donations, create art and make music. A school is being built, construction is going on all day and into the night, wind turbines and large solar panels are being installed. A new society is being built! A new way of thinking – a paradigm shift is being developed.
On what it was like out there:
Once of our friends took a cell phone picture of a 21 year old lady Sophie Wilansky who lost part of her arm after being hit by a flash grenade thrown at her by law enforcement. I was tear gassed several times while filming and hundreds of people were injured. It was really a surreal night. Some of the video footage from our time at Oceti has been picked up by some media outlets. Myself and Jeshua Marshall have been filming. The picture of Sophie was released by Democracy Now and other channels. We've been interviewing people and gathering content for a short film and news stations.
On the lessons Americans can learn from what is happening out there:
I believe that the lesson is - we as a collective voice do have power! After months of peaceful demonstrations the Army Corps of Engineers have denied an easement for the DAPL to continue the pipeline at Standing Rock. As far as next steps we need to shift our way of thinking and invest in renewable energy.
On the day to day life:
Community meetings happen throughout the day. There are five kitchens (with more in construction) that charge nothing for meals. No one pays rent, land to build new structures is available at no cost. Reporters are interviewing people, legal council, psychological and medical support is freely given, and press releases are being written.
On what's truly important at Standing Rock:
This is being lead by First Nation Tribal councils and through community decision-making. It’s cooperative, drug and alcohol free, and amazing! I will continue to go in and out of this exciting new societal project indefinitely. I don’t know the extent of the film we will tackle, but I do know that the real story here is the people, the movement and the indigenous wisdom being imparted. Over the last week I’ve meet amazing people from around the globe, and been touched by Native spirituality to the core. Indigenous spiritually and way of living in balance has been missing from the world. People are beginning to wake up, listen and remember! Our current operating system has failed; it has been corrupted by greed. The people are tired of a small minority hoarding the world’s resources, killing the planet and its people. Like an old computer that is breaking down, the system needs an update. The reboot has started!
Jefferson Greene is the Youth Program Coordinator of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
He and dozens of other members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs traveled to Standing Rock as water protectors. Here are his words.
“After further consideration, I apologize that I do not have a precise stance on this issue having reviewed several perspectives on the development of the pipeline and I do not support the Dakota Access Pipeline.
There is a much bigger issue at hand here and it showed in the recent decisions made regarding the DAPL, both the positive and negative decisions.
Obama refused to move on this issue long before it got more and more violent. Why? Most likely because he's already been paid off through political contributions. Why is the system even have to be like that? Where the more money you have the more power you have and our country has nurtured that type of system for generations. Monday, using a credit card, I paid off the rest of the $4K I owed in federal taxes for 2015 while the incoming President of our country doesn't have to pay a dime?
Obama did move on the DAPL issue once the Veterans got involved in an attempt to prevent a civil war. If active veterans seen that our very own government is willing to attack veterans for the sake of oil profits, I think it would have caused an incredible uproar in our country and it still may happen under President Trump, sad.
If cops are protecting and serving the oil companies first due to their political contributions to the politicians of North Dakota, wow, what a country and state in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?!
The entire Republican party is in support of the DAPL, meaning that they don't mind potentially poisoning the drinking water of 7 million + people down stream and our government is okay with that? For a powerful political party in our country to think this way and its simply business as usual? No one wants to attack that system of thinking so the big companies remain at the throne while the rest of us take the scraps of their decisions? This exists in this great country, Land of the Free for Oil Companies.
What a sad time to see so much come to light in our country.
This country is built on bloodshed, murder, and the pillaging of millions of peoples’ villages, not to make it better and develop, but to rape it for its resources for financial gains for a few who've remained at the top generation to generation and hate developing programs for the regular lower citizens of this country who are continually kicked to the side.
President Trump once said the Electoral College is a disaster for democracy, obvious today. But will it change? I don't see it changing with the big companies paying everyone off to support their positions in society and it's becoming sadder and sadder. And now, he'll be the president, he and the Republicans vow to push this pipeline through, potentially poisoning millions of peoples drinking water because as we're coming to know, it is the Land of the Free for Oil Companies and Home of the Brave Republicans who are willing to cast their votes in support of this position.
This is as corrupt as it gets. The entire world is focusing on helping our Planet for the sake of people as we begin to endure some of the harshest changes in our climate and weather patterns. Yet here is the United States pushing to rape the earth of its resources for as much financial gains we can.”
Erika Kightlinger traveled to Standing Rock and helped build 131 stoves for the encampment.
On the moment she knew she had to do something:
I was watching things on the Internet and felt like I wasn't getting the honest picture, so I started talking to people and was invited to a Native American church ceremony. At the ceremony I met a woman who had just driven in from Standing Rock and I asked her what was happening out there. I wanted to understand. I asked her what they needed and she said they needed a construction crew, building supplies and wood stoves. During this ceremony I thought very clearly that I was to take wood stoves out. It was a very strong inner guidance...a small voice.
On being overwhelmed:
I didn't have any idea how I was going to get 300-400lb stoves on a truck when I weigh a hundred pounds. It was overwhelming, the idea of doing this. But two weeks from the day of that ceremony I was standing in Standing Rock unloading my first truck. It felt really guided. The money showed up. The stoves showed up. I kept working with different groups and we've dropped off 131 stoves and 113 teepees so far. We've just dropped off our sixth semi-truck of firewood this week.
On the logistics:
We purchased 55 gallon barrels and then we bought stove kits and stove pipe and then transported all of that out there and once we got onto the ground, we borrowed tools, cut the barrels and put all the pieces together.
On whether the end is near:
Gracious no, it's not over. They have not said it's not going through. Plus, when has the government ever followed through when they've said something like that. I've been getting concerned because I've been watching the main camp shut down more and more. I think they put out the sacred fire on Saturday. Once those structures out there are down, they're not going to be able to be put back up... not with the weather that they're having. If it gets too small, who's going to protect the water protectors?
I don't really know what's going to happen. It's hard to see at this point. The Company has repeatedly broken laws and had the police supporting them. They're continuing to work even though they've been asked not to. Nothing shows that it's stopped because they're still out there working. More and more National Guards are being called out there right now. If it's done then why are they still calling out more National Guard to be on active duty?
On how people here in Central Oregon can help:
I would highly recommend people withdraw money from the companies that support the pipeline like Chase and Wells Fargo. Withdraw and go to another bank. Also, know that this isn't done. I don't know how it's going to pan out, but there are two other camps out there aside from the main camp and they're not leaving. There are also still lots of people at the main camp and they still need support. They need winter shelters. They still need stoves. They need wood. The basic essentials. Know that the money you send is getting straight through to the people on the ground that are doing the work.
I just wanna cry. I fear that people are going to go into the holidays and just forget about this. Forget that all of these people are going to be sitting out there in the cold weather protecting the Earth while we're sitting around eating cookies. There's nothing wrong with celebrating with are families but at the same time this is still taking place. Keep paying attention because it's not done.
Stewart Fritchman, owner of Bellatazza, donated hundreds of dollars in coffee to Standing Rock.
On first hearing about Standing Rock:
When I first started hearing about the Standing Rock protest I was a bit astounded that in today’s day and age, after all the US has done to the First Nation People, that we continue to treat them as “separate, but equal” unless we want something. Then, we use every legal maneuver, every tool of financial attrition and every surface level action to appear that we (The USA) are being good neighbors. We of course want to be good neighbors to the people from whom we took their land, desecrated their sacred grounds, brought them measles, put them into poverty, slaughtered them, put them onto reservations, blasted our Presidents faces overlooking their lands and of course Wounded Knee. And then mineral rights. And backing out of treaties. And of course oil rights. And then there was the gold. So as the hurtful saying goes, and I don’t want to breathe life into it but I feel it is appropriate in this instance, “Don’t be an Indian giver.” Which means, don’t give someone something and then try to take it back. Well it appears to me, we (our government) have been the ones to give, then back out of the deal leaving them fewer and fewer riches.
On how simple the choice is to do something:
I realized, they are fighting for clean water. Simply clean water. The same thing that every organism, human or otherwise needs for life to be possible. They are fighting for people in their community as well as downstream. They are fighting for every life on that river. Every single one will either benefit or be punished for this action. They were there to say “no” to polluting the most essential element. They didn’t show up with guns, water cannons, riot gear, disguises, helmets, mace, bombs, grenades, sonic weapons. Nope, that was the company.
On being a good neighbor:
A good neighbor wouldn’t build a pipeline next door to your house. A good neighbor would ask if they could. A good neighbor would ask to buy your land. A good neighbor would try to negotiate with you. A good neighbor would not ‘just do it’. A good neighbor would check out the ENTIRE neighborhood. A good neighbor would talk to everyone they could and if they couldn’t locate someone, they’d just hold the project. A good neighbor, if engaged in the project was then approached with all this resistance, would then stop building the project and try to find harmony. Remember, this is business! How about, “Remember these are people and the health of the planet at stake for the sake of enriching a few people and sending much of the product overseas.”
On the moment of realization:
When I realized we had a conflict about something as simple as clean water for everyone vs profit for a few, I was upset. When I remembered it was against First Nation People we have abused since the moment we arrived on their shores, I was more upset. When I saw how the US Government was not standing up for humans on its shores, yet would legislate for profits for the few, I was ready to engage. My engagement is small and only one voice. But with the Water Protectors in Bend and throughout the nation, we are being heard. Some give cash, some give time, some give materials. United we are making a difference. All we have given is a few hundred dollars of coffee but will continue to provide it as now our VETERANS are also there to say “No way, this is not okay.” At this moment great hot coffee and the sentiment that “we have your back” sure seems to be a welcome contribution.
On the impact:
Will all our collective contributions help this cause? It already has. Through constant promotions and sharing on social media, the whole world is now watching. In part, because of small donations from tens of thousands if not a million different people, all united for the cause of Standing with Standing Rock. This has become a media coup against the DAPL who thought they could, again, run ramshackle over the First Nation People and little to no obstacles would be in their way. I believe deeply in supporting our local community. It is deeply touching to me to see a community like Bend reaching across the states to people we have never met to join our voices in peacefully being heard – by the millions.