Despite the heightening tension between demonstrators in the camps at Standing Rock and Dakota Access L.L.C., water protectors in the camps remain undaunted, committed to prayerful, non-violent direct action to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing the Missouri River and trampling over sacred sites.
The camps in Standing Rock have overflowed with new arrivals. Caravans and individual cars move in steadily. Traffic into the camp has been so constant that volunteer traffic directors have been stationed in high traffic areas.
Camp-goers stand for an honor song in the common area of the Oceti Sakowin camp. Sarah Manning.
Security/Traffic directors hold their post next to the common parking area in the Oceti Sakowin Camp. From left, Waskoness Pitawanakwat, Anishinabe; Janifer Jensen, Oglala; Garrett Fourth, Dakota. Sarah Sunshine Manning.
While thousands congregated in the camps in Standing Rock one Saturday afternoon, a smaller group encountered an aggressive security team hired by Dakota Access. As Native American water protectors approached the construction site, Dakota Access was prepared for confrontation with a new presence of private security, consisting of guards and dogs. Water protectors moved in to stop construction and to protect sacred sites from being destroyed.
The confrontation between demonstrators and Dakota Access became violent as machinery and vehicles moved through the demonstrators. Guards soon moved in and pepper sprayed men and women, and dog handlers lunged into the crowd with their dogs.
Demonstrators hold their hands up as guards and dogs lunge toward them. Courtesy of Robyn Beck/Getty.
At the end of the confrontation, six water protectors, including one child and one pregnant woman, and one horse sustained bite injuries, and approximately 30 suffered pepper spray to the eyes. It was later confirmed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that Dakota Access construction did, in fact, destroy burial sites and sacred sites that day.
Conservative North Dakota and South Dakota media outlets were quick to spin the story in such a way to suggest that it was the water protectors that escalated violence. This confrontation and the battle of polar opposite narratives, while unsettling, has not dampened the growing spirit of the camps.
Despite numerous attempts by some media to undermine the peaceful and non-violent atmosphere, the camps overflow with an energy of unity and support. New arrivals continue to come in, and workers volunteer their help in all corners of the camp.
Men stocking food donations into the refrigeration truck on Labor Day weekend. Sarah Sunshine Manning.
Freddie Chavez, Mexica, drove all the way from Los Angeles, California. Chavez traveled with a group known as the Harmony Keepers, who brought supplies, fruit, and clothing.
“We are all descendants of the original people of this land. We are the same,” Chavez told ICTMN.
Chavez also performs with an Aztec dance group, Ajolote. “Our songs and dance help us to overcome. When we move, we wake up our ancestral memory.”
Rizza Islam, also traveled from Los Angeles, California, to Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with water defenders. He arrived to Standing Rock just an hour after the earlier confrontation with Dakota Access. Islam traveled with a group representing the Nation of Islam, Mosque No. 27 of Los Angeles.
Rizza Islam of Los Angeles, California, in the camps of Standing Rock. Sarah Sunshine Manning.
“This is our brown family, and we’re all connected,” Islam said. “The hypocrisy has to stop somewhere in this country. We have to stop violating treaties,” he added. “We always protect our red family. This is exactly why we’re here.”
Marcella Lebeaux, Lakota, is 96 years old. She came to Standing Rock from the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Lebeaux’s grandfather, Joseph Four Bears, signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. She came to Standing Rock to continue the legacy of her family in protecting the land.
Jade Lebeaux, Lakota, helps his grandmother, Marcella Lebeaux, to their car after listening to the speakers at the Oceti Sakowin camp. Sarah Sunshine Manning.
“Since the Doctrine of Discovery, the foreigners have come to take our land and now they want our water. We’ve been through boarding schools, historical trauma, and we are still suffering the effects,” said Lebeaux. “The trauma and the struggle doesn’t end,” she added. “It feels absolutely awesome though that we have all the support from all over in the United States here. I’ve already been here twice, and I want to keep coming back.”
Dave Iron Cloud, Oglala Lakota, traveled to Standing Rock from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He says he was 6-years-old when he was present at the Wounded Knee occupation back in 1973. “The people that made this board I’m holding came from Minnesota,” he said. “I’m holding it for them.”
Iron Cloud was joined by Yvette Gray, Yanktonai and Hunkpapa Lakota, from Standing Rock. Referring to the sign, Gray said, “This was our generation. This is the new history here, and I will be here until the end.”
Dave Iron Cloud, Oglala Lakota, and Yvette Gray, Yanktonai and Hunkpapa Lakota, sit and listen to speakers share their stories in the camps at Standing Rock. Sarah Sunshine Manning.
On a recent Sunday, hundreds of camp goers participated in a prayerful march to the site of the conflict where graves and sacred sites were disturbed. Participants in the walk followed behind a sign that read, “Defend the Sacred.” Women and men sang, and as they walked, they prepared to enter into a space where direct action and desecration reached a peak.
After arriving to the site, spiritual leaders led the group in prayer and song. It was an emotional and somber experience, and many tears were shed.
Camp goers prepare for a prayer walk to the site of Dakota Access construction where burial and sacred sites were desecrated. Sarah Sunshine Manning.
After the proper respects were paid, those on the prayer walk returned to camp, where cooperation remained constant, and high spirits resumed. Tribal flags and signs flew high, declaring to all that “Water is life.”
On September 9, a federal court ruling was delivered, denying the injunction filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop Dakota Access construction. Immediately after the ruling was delivered, three federal agencies intervened to temporarily halt construction. While this swift action is good news to the tribe, the halt in construction is not permanent. The camps in Standing Rock endure.
Camp Goers line up for the prayer walk procession up to the site where Dakota Access desecrated graves and sacred sites. Sarah Sunshine Manning.
“The Obama administration is stepping in, and that’s good,” said Marshall Lee, Yakama, from Toppenish, Washington, once the decision was delivered. “But this is just the beginning.”
Today, water protectors in Standing Rock remain vigilant, and campers hunker down for colder weather.
“I’m not here just fighting for me, but my nieces and nephews,” said Thomas Lopez, Jr., Chicano from Denver. “And we all have the right to have clean water.”
Like thousands of others, Lopez remained in the camps, even after the announcement was made that construction was halted temporarily. Water protectors on the ground, and their allies, worldwide, are in this battle for the long haul.
Sarah Sunshine Manning
Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth. Follow her at @SarahSunshineM.