Names have been omitted for the safety of individuals.
“Absolutely no alcohol or drugs on you or in you. This is a camp of prayer and ceremony,” reads one of the first signs at the entrance of the Oceti Sakowin camp, a camp that resisted the Dakota Access Pipeline construction in North Dakota. This was not Coachella, this was not a family campground, this was a life or death battle against an oil pipeline running in Native American treaty land in Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
An enormous dreamcatcher-–a Native American tradition of hand-made protections for those asleep–-aligns the entrance signs, scaring away the infiltrators, catching bad energy and hopefully cleansing the entire camp. The hoop represents strength and unity. The water protectors who joined this fight learned to become one, learned to embrace differences and unite similarities for a common cause-–stopping the construction of the pipeline.
Just north of the resistance camp on Highway 1806 is Blackwater Bridge, which leads to the pipeline. Police from Morton County held the bridge under 24-hour surveillance; the bridge was barricaded, rending it into a hot-spot for demonstrations, actions, prayers, and ceremonies lead by the indigenous community and water protectors.
It is important to mention that all the protectors were unarmed and peaceful.
A native elder leads us into a water ceremony at the blocked part of the bridge. “We bring these waters from a healing well here, from our community, to this place and this community and pour them into the ground and hope it will bring healing.”
A lonely protector waves an USSR flag, standing on the cut-off bridge leading to the pipeline, “It’s not a comment on communism or socialism, it’s a comment against capitalism.”
Two military-style trucks that were torched during one of the conflicts in late October symbolized the line between the water protectors and armed forces on Blackwater Bridge. The police used multiple weapons against the protestors including: water cannons in freezing temperatures, rubber bullets, and tear gas. The U.S. Commission on Civil rights has since released a statement regarding concern for excessive force and use of military-style equipment by the police.
“It’s no longer the elders that have to stand up for it. Your ancestors are within you. And how do you know your ancestors are in you? You carry the water and water has memory, you have their DNA. So when you feel alone–you are not. When you feel weak, it is an awakening of your ancestors in you, that says, ‘you are not alone. We have survived from the beginning of time and will continue that survival.’ Every time you feel defeated: you touch your stomach, you close your eyes, you cry, you feel that water and the memories of your ancestors. So you can keep the future generations whispering the names of years before. We will prevail. Water is life.”
In 1862 a devastating event resulted from a federal policy that sought to remove native Dakota tribes from their land. This lead to the largest mass hanging in U.S. history. Thirty-eight Dakota prisoners were simultaneously executed in front of a crowd of 4,000 people.
Today, to commemorate their traumatic past, descendants and relatives of the hanged men have come together. A group of riders traveled the 330-mile journey on horseback from Lower Brule, South Dakota to the hanging site in Mankato, Minnesota on the anniversary of the event.
Some of the riders joined the resistance camp at the Dakota Access Pipeline.