By Antonia Gonzales
The Oceti Sakowin Camp is in transition as extreme winter weather and requests by the Standing Rock Sioux chairman and others are prompting people to leave. Camp organizers closed the camp to new arrivals as another major blizzard approaches.
Lucas Mullikin from Flagstaff, Arizona was folding a tarp and packing up his tent Thursday morning. He was there for about a week. This was his third visit. Mullikin said the winter weather created some challenges.
“Definetly the first blizzard out here in North Dakota I’ve experienced,” Millikin said. “Up late listening to the radio, missing peoples’ reports and going on search parties, helping look for people who got misplaced in the snowstorm. Stressful, but a really big sense of community that brought everyone together.”
Aaron Bercovitch from San Diego was with Mullikin and a couple other people. This was the Californian’s first time to the camp. He says leaving now is the right thing for him.
“I never felt endangered by the snowstorm per se, but I did realize that I’m not fully prepared for it and so I figured I’m not here to become a burden,” Bercovitch said. “I’m here to support.”
The Crow Creek Spirit Riders were also packing up. Mason Rockwood from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe says they’re leaving not because anyone asked them to, but they’re participating in a memorial horse ride elsewhere. They plan to return to camp in January. Rockwood says bringing the horses to the camp is an important part of showing support to Indigenous people.
“We also knew we wanted to bring our horses because that is how we show our support as Dakota people, Lakota people, Nakota people,” Rockwood said. “The horses are a huge part of our culture and we just felt like they needed to be here to share this journey with us.”
They held a ceremony before riding out with about nine horses.
James Thomas, Paiute from California, was chopping wood inside the camp. He’s been here for about two weeks and says he’s not going anywhere.
“Just because one (tribal) councilor said to leave that’s not all of them and we all have motivations to stay because we’re all accepted here,” Thomas said. “Of course if you’re scared of the cold and are not prepared then by all means leave or if you have other family matters then go home. But we’re all here to stay and be a part of this revolution.”
Thomas is living in a longhouse with about 15 people. He says they’re hunkering down for the winter. Challenges they’re facing include needing more fire wood, and their water and food freezing.
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The sun was out and snow covered the ground in front of Pat Wabashaw’s structure she shares with her husband and four children at the Oceti Sakowin Camp.
“It’s handmade with maple wood and iron wood. It’s covered in tarp and an insulated tarp on the top,” Wabashaw said.
Pat, her husband and four boys who range in age from three to 15,
She and her husband sold their house and belonging before driving the family van to North Dakota. Her four boys range in age from three to 15 years. They had first been to the camp for about a week in October.
“When we left to Colorado we just couldn’t stop thinking about (being back here),” she said.
The family is Winnebago and Santee Sioux. She says they wanted to be among other Native people who’ve been living at the camp for months and opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Wabashaw says life at the camp is a community atmosphere like it was before settlers came. The family gets up with the sun, works and then goes to bed when the sun goes down.
“Everything was here,” she said. “We had family, our roots, the music, the people, the laughter. I think we have the best jokes, the best punter. Because when we lived in the city we didn’t do those things. We lived in a house, we watched TV, we went out to eat and here it’s different. You have to get up in the morning, you have to collect your wood or you’re going to be cold, you have to cook your food, you have to collect water. It’s different. It’s not the headache it was back home.”
Inside the structure are tents, stoves and a few personal belongings.
“If you see the silver those are survival blankets, so when the heat is in there it bounces off those and forces it back in here.”
A big pot sits on a camping stove near the door with wild rice. She says the rice was gifted to them.
“And it doesn’t take too long. The water just soaks into the rice. I have some beef in here, usually it would be bison. So it’s like a dirty rice.”
Pat says they’re ready to take on the next battle for Indigenous people if and when they leave.
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By Daysha Eaton and Antonia Gonzales
The self-proclaimed ‘water protectors’ honked horns, hollered and sang on a highway near the Oceti Sakowin Camp in North Dakota Sunday. The celebration came after hearing the news the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a key easement to run the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Kandi Mossett, with the Indigenous Environmental Network calls the decision a victory. “The mood is one of celebration and happiness and relief because we’ve been fighting for so long,” she said. The Army Corps decision calls for an environmental study and an exploration of alternative routes.
Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network says he’s cautiously optimistic.
“We have to be prepared to see what Energy Transfer Partners does, whether they are going to file a lawsuit,” he said. “If they do that, we are sure because of the timeline schedule it may take the hearing at district court on something like that into the next administration under Donald Trump.”
The pipeline is nearly complete. The 1,000 feet across the river is one of the last remaining obstacles for Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the nearly 1,200-mile oil pipeline. In a written statement late Sunday, Energy Transfer Partners said the decision does not change the company’s plans and they expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting. The company lashed out at the Obama Administration, which they say “abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.” The advocacy group, Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now went further, saying Donald Trump’s inauguration day, January 20th, “can’t come soon enough.”
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