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