This last week, I traveled down to the small reservation town of Cannon Ball, ND. This small town, which is home to the Standing Stone Reservation, along the confluence of the Missouri River and Cannon Ball River, has become the site of a stand off between the native tribes, big money, and the powers that be. This is the first time since June 25th, 1876, that the Seven Council Fires of the Native Nations were together in a camp in order to fight for their rights. This historic meeting has been a huge unifying rally point. The native people are protesting the construction of a pipeline through their land.
My trip started, as it always does, with a long drive. This one was only about 15 hours. As I was driving there, I did my best to reach out to others that I suspected might have their boots on the ground in Cannon Ball. I was able to learn that in the day it took me to travel there, the numbers of protestors had swollen from a couple hundred to over a thousand. I also heard reports from the local Sheriff’s Department that they were closing down access to the main road that lead to the area in an attempt to keep protestors out. These protest camps were located on reservation land and they were welcomed by the tribe. The reasons given were in the name of public safety and that they (the Sheriff’s Department) had heard rumors of possible gun shots and possible pipe bombs. After getting a few hours of sleep at a local cheap motel in Bismarck, ND I was determined to find a route to the demonstrators’ camps that would keep me clear of the road blocks that were already in place. After making a few calls and finding a few posts on Facebook, I decided to try Route 6 to Route 24. As there always seems to be at any protest, there was a tremendous law enforcement presence from Bismarck through to the reservation. But I was able to make it without incident and I found myself at The Red Warrior Camp.
All of the young men working the camp gate were wearing red shirts and informed me that no cameras were allowed at this camp what so ever (except for Vice, apparently they are able to film where ever they please.) They also told me that I would need to go register at the media tent at the main camp of three. One camp was mostly made up of tribal elders that would not welcome anyone from outside of the tribe. The Red Warrior camp seemed to be made up of younger members of the tribe, and the main camp that was by far the largest. It held the tribes that were coming in from across the US and Canada. I was told that it would be ok for me to take pictures and video from that camp. So I made my way back down to the main camp and registered with the media tent. While waiting on the person I needed to register with, I sat around the main area where tribal leadership was speaking on internal issues relating to the protests. At first, it seemed like there was some infighting. I remembered back to some of the protests I have been apart of and realized it might have gone better if we had taken the same approach and discussed our trivial differences in a public forum. Things may have gone smoother for us in the long run if we could openly air our grievances. I recognized one of the people I had seen on Facebook calling for people to join the protests. Dallas Goldtooth, an activist that had been involved in similar protests, including the Keystone XL Pipeline. I asked him how the response had been so far. He relayed to me that it had been incredible, everyone was so very passionate about this and he emphasized that they were there without weapons, drugs, or alcohol. I asked him his thoughts about the statement that the Sheriff had made about the shots fired and the other justifications to closing the roads. He laughed when answering and stated that they were 100% false. He told me to just look around and that everyone here had peacefully come together to pray and stand together to protect the land. Everything I saw supported this claim. Not once did I see a weapon or hear of anyone planning violence. It seems to me that the propaganda machine was in high gear and its main casualty was the truth. After registering and parking my pickup, there was going to be a march to the gate of the construction site where there would be a religious ceremony. We were asked not to take any pictures or videos. Out of respect I put my cameras into my backpack and joined the mass of a couple hundred people that were either marching or riding on horseback towards the gate. It was a surreal experience. You had the modern day equivalent of young braves on horseback, both horse and riders were painted with ceremonial body paint. There were many wearing both ceremonial outfits and what you would expect to see in any western town. There were people of all races present. However 98% appeared to be Native. As we began our march the tribal elders took up ranks in the front. There were drums and songs along with yelping calls of modern day warriors. We made the mile and a half trek uphill on foot, horseback, and in pickups to the gate that now was adorned with flags, banners, and other traditional symbols. As we approached you could see the cement road dividers meant to keep the protestors away and even the roadway itself was spray painted with messages decrying the pipeline. As we marched up the hill, the timeless songs seemed to crescendo and even the wind and rain seemed to grow in intensity. A few of the Natives around me commented that the spirits themselves seem to be marching with the people. There seemed to be an electric charge in the air. We made it to the gate where just days before, 28 people (including Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, David Archambault) had been arrested after a confrontation between armed security forces hired by the oil company and protestors. Before this confrontation there had been no arrests. Today there were no workers and only one member of tribal law enforcement at the gate. The people sung, prayed, and smoked peace pipes. It seemed more like a religious ceremony than a protest. After the procession we headed back to the main camp where I spent the rest of the day interviewing protestors. (Please see the video and audio files at the end of the article.)
That day was a small victory. The project has been delayed, according to Energy Transfer Partners, until a federal court hearing this week in Washington D.C.
The $3.8 billion pipeline will stretch from the Bakken Oil Fields, across 4 states, and would then be the largest capacity line to carry crude oil out of western Dakota. So what is the contention with the Pipeline? According to Bigstory.ap.org; The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit, filed last month in federal court in Washington D.C., challenges the US Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permit at more than 200 water crossings, in four states for the pipeline. The tribe argues, the pipeline would be placed less than a mile upstream of the reservation and could impact drinking water for the more than 8,000 tribal members and the millions who rely on it further downstream. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the tribe by the environmental group EarthJustice, said the project violates several federal laws including the National Historic Preservation Act. The tribe worries the project will disturb ancient sacred sites outside of the 2.3-million-acre reservation. The hearing on the tribe’s request for a temporary injunction is slated for Wednesday.
Land Issues will one day affect us all. Whether it is the EPA shutting down coal mines in Kentucky, The Army Corp of Engineers in North Dakota, or the BLM and Forest Service. I have been able learn a lot about land issues as it pertains to The Liberty Movement. One thing that becomes very clear very quickly is just how fast the Government Agencies, swiftly followed by the money interests, take over the talking points to try and maintain a certain story line. Even when that story is very far from the truth of things.
In the camps I experienced nothing but peaceful protestors. The biggest impression that was made on me was on my way back out home. The roadblock they had set up was one way only meaning, that if you were leaving the area you were free to go. But those that were unlucky enough to be caught going towards the reservation, it was a whole other story. I guess I was just expecting a few traffic cones and a couple of officers. What I went through I would have expected at a security check point, in the war torn, middle eastern country, with an active insurgency. Using cement highway dividers, they had created a box that was large enough for one car at a time. You entered on one side of the highway, and then, after being interrogated by police in full tactical gear and body armor, you were either detained or allowed through. There were probably 30 militarized law enforcement officers in the whole area and they were stopping each car coming in and questioning them about who they were, where they lived, and what their business was. It is actions like these that are done in the name of “public safety” that are killing our First Amendment rights. We are protected by the First Amendment for the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. All of these rights were violated by this blocking of access by the powers that be. They kept the citizens from freely assembling to protest and also kept the press from covering the story with first hand accounts. This I feel is the largest crime that has come out of these demonstrations. One that should concern us all, as it will be used as a precedent moving forward. I should no longer be surprised by the pull that big money has on the powers that be and I am the first to admit that this is a very complex and complicated issue. Our economy runs on oil, I have many friends that were at one time or another employed in the oil fields. However, we must never sacrifice our rights for economic gain.
Jason Van Tatenhove
Jason Van Tatenhove is a contributing Editor for the Oath Keepers and also writes for North West Liberty News.