For months, the Standing Rock Sioux and allies have been protecting their water by resisting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would carry 500,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois in the United States. Peter Dakota Molof spent a week supporting water protectors at resistance camps set up along Lake Oahe – this is what he saw.
Photo by Gokhan Cukurova
As I turn off the two-lane highway that courses through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation into Oceti Sakowin Camp (technically an overflow camp from the original Camp of the Sacred Stones that formed in April of this year), I am bursting with feelings. I’ve been on the road for three days in Greenpeace’s Rolling Sunlight to provide solar power to #NoDAPL resistance efforts.
Without strong cell reception, it’s been hard to know what to expect when I arrive, so I’ve spent long days anxiously trying to imagine what it will be like at camp. But I don’t think there’s any way to prepare for a place like this. There isn’t any way to prepare to witness history in the making.
Photo by Gokhan Cukurova
From the road, the valley flat provides an incredible view of the expanse of Oceti Sakowin, the surrounding camps and the mass of protectors who have come from Nations far and wide to defend water from the Dakota Access Pipeline. After a brief chat with some helpful camp security, we begin pulling our 13-ton truck down the avenue of flags representing the Indigenous nations who have lent their support.
I will spend the next week working with the hundreds of people who have pledged to peacefully and prayerfully stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Each day, there are non-violent direct action or peace-keeper trainings designed to ground us all in the principles of camp and our purpose here.
The conversations are rich, delving into what the role of a protector is versus a “protester,” and how to hold each other accountable to the principles we’ve agreed to.
I am struck by how unique this moment is – to be training with members of so many nations, with so many relatives from so many different places, and with so many people who have never before taken action on their principles in this way. These are our prayers in action.
Among us are also leaders from other historic moments of Indigenous resistance, like Wounded Knee II and Alcatraz. We listen humbly to our Elders as they remind us that we are responsible for one another’s actions as much as we are responsible for our own.
The days are long and the weather is turning cold. There is talk of what will happen when winter really hits, and protectors who have been here since last April recount how relentless the snow was last year. But no one is talking about leaving.
We share food together at one of the eight internal camps and affirm to each other that until the pipeline is stopped, no one is going anywhere.
Every day, more people arrive. Some are coming back after a brief period away (many people stay for a week, tend to matters at home, and then return), still more are laying their eyes on Oceti Sakowin for the first time. Sometimes, late into the night, you can hear the cries welcoming the arriving nations. I lay in my sleeping bag smiling, short on sleep but happy to be there.
Every night we powwow – nations offering songs of thanks, resilience and grief that we have to fight this pipeline at all. I wander back to my camp relatively early but the voices – the prayers – fill the night and begin early in the morning, greeting the sun as it rises.
As an Indigenous person, I am in awe of the solidarity our nations have shown with one another, but I’m not surprised.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is not the first time – nor, I fear, the last – a wealthy corporation has attempted to sacrifice the water and well-being of Indigenous people for profit. We know the stakes of this moment are high. With runaway climate change flooding our relatives’ ancestral lands and threatening our land-based connections, countless oil spills and mining waste threatening the water we depend upon for everything, and the unprecedented earthquakes causing the very earth beneath our feet to break open, there is no time to waste.
Environmental issues often impact Indigenous people first and hardest; in the end they will affect us all. There have been so many times where I haven’t seen this acknowledged by anyone but us. At camp, it becomes abundantly clear that while we clearly have work to do, we have come so far in understanding one another.
On my last day at the camp, we get the news that the Obama administration has requested a “voluntary pause” on active construction and that 20 miles surrounding Lake Oahe are off-limits for now. It hasn’t stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline but it’s a sign that our voices are being heard.
At a huge rally in Bismarck, North Dakota, at least 1,000 people round dance and celebrate. Fifty riot police watch on as we dance. We pray for them to lay down their weapons and join us in our fight and in creating a world without such tools of systemic violence. Mostly, however, we focus on our purpose.
We are here for the water and we can only hope that like the thousands of protectors camping, the world will soon understand the Dakota Access Pipeline must be stopped.
Leah, a water protector. Photo by Gokhan Cukurova
Peter Dakota Molof (Oglala Lakota) is a grassroots trainer and organizer at Greenpeace USA.
This blog was originally published on by Greenpeace USA.