In Reflection: DAPL

The camp resides in our rear view as our journey comes to a close. The farther we get away from the once-in-a-lifetime experience, the more apparent it becomes that it was real. The gravity of the situation, the symbolism of it all; it strikes us as we fall under the weight of our Dakota Access Pipeline experience.

As we left my roommate and I looked at each other and realized in that moment that we accomplished what we had set out to do. We stood with those that share a common cause. We provided what aid we could in support of the beautiful people protecting every day. We listened to those that would speak with us about their struggles, determination and opinion. We realized we had been and contributed to a cause larger than ourselves.

History seems to be repeating itself as of late with various population groups in America; the pipeline conflict is a stark reminder of the resilience passion carries and that belittled populations will fight for their beliefs. We need, now more than ever, to raise our voices on the issues we care about. We need now more than ever to advocate for the voiceless and stand with those struggling to make theirs heard.

I will never forget the things I experienced on that sacred ground. The recent victory for the Sioux is a great step forward but it is cautiously welcome. There is no telling what the future may hold for the Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline, the hope is that the victory is sustained. If it is not, I will not be the only one back on the grounds ready to advocate for the voiceless and stand with those struggling to make theirs heard.

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

Morning with the Sioux

Cotton candied clouds hung lazily above us with a color so vibrant it must have been painted by the imagination of a child. Fluorescent pinks, purples and oranges of every shade danced across the clouds from the horizon.

We were back on the grounds Sunday morning bright and early. People were stirring, the sounds of construction and tribal song filled the area. The camp looked and felt much different than the night before. We took time to familiarize ourselves the the nuances of the camp only sunlight could expose. Compost piles, medical tents, clothing and food donation areas were spread out around the center of camp. A pile of wood to fuel the spirit fire was the one area from which campers could not help themselves, for it fueled a fire of sacred practice and symbolized the passion of the people here.

Among other things, we observed sacred tribal chant and song, the likes of which I tend to recall as I rest at night. It seemed as if nothing could keep strangers from volunteering with camp chores, conversing and smiling at other passerby. You could feel the respect everyone had for one another; we had all traveled so far to come together in peace and purity in order to support the cause and people of the land.

This was a gun, alcohol and drug free area. These protectors did not want to demonstrate in violence, they did not want the sanctity of the grounds to be ruined due to intoxicated decisions. In a way, the car check entrance was a foreshadow to the sobering reality that there have been people camped for months in peace yet brutalized by authority; there is a gorgeous life-giving water source that while unable to speak is being arduously spoken for.

A man named Isaac Murdoch of the Sioux tribe painted what has become a symbol of the effort and I believe it is him who wrote “man does not string the web of life, only one strand of it.”

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

Sacred Rock Burial Grounds

At a gas station just outside of Sacred Rock, the burial grounds upon which this mass protest continues, I met Ivan Standing Horse. Seeking direction and explanation, we speak about the pipeline, his people, and the out pour of love the action has received. He seemed hopeful that they would prevail in their efforts despite the obvious challenges the Sioux people face. We ended our conversation with a hand shake and high hopes.

He told me we wouldn’t be able to miss the mass demonstration just to the right of the road; he wasn’t kidding. Large tepees weaved in between rows of cars and the occasional fire helped direct us through what seemed like chaos. ¬†Freezing temperatures and fast winds might have cut our exposed skin but it could not penetrate our spirits or that of those around us. As we wandered through the unfamiliar area, we tried to talk to whoever was still out in the cold. Filled with adrenaline and in awe of what we were experiencing, the thought that we had been up since 5 a.m. driving countless miles vanished. We came upon the Red Warriors Camp and met a Sioux member who talked to us for what felt like hours. Filled with pride for his land, people and the protection those on the grounds were enacting, he filled us in about the camp.

We discussed at length the events that have occurred between officials and those in defiance of the pipeline in this area. When asked how long he had been protesting, he said “we have been here for more than 500 years that’s for sure… we have been on these grounds for the last two months” and quickly added “we are not protesting, we are protecting. We are protecting our water.”

Eve and others started the Red Warrior Camp division of the grounds where it seemed more than 50 campers had taken residence. Eve and fellow Red Warrior members acted as guards for their area, asking passerby into the camp to check in and seemed to take their protection seriously. It was clear he felt strongly about the intruding forces upon the land, noting “we need to sit together, eat together, share together, be together” Eve said about the division between protesters and government.

With this, it was late and we were exhausted. While we could have stayed on the grounds that night, we had to head out to Pierre, South Dakota for the night. On the drive down to Pierre, we decided not to visit Mount Rushmore but instead head back to the grounds. We traveled so far to experience this effort, to understand those fighting so vigorously and to feel as if we contributed more than cases of water to the effort. It was apparent our time on the grounds was not over and we would not let the effort and travel be in vain.

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager