My Time at Standing Rock

It was truly an honor to be able to go to Standing Rock and represent Greenpeace in a humble way. Being surrounded by fellow Indigenous water protectors was grounding and allowed for the continued healing of ancestral trauma that many of us in Indian country have to deal with on a daily basis.

MJ, a young water protector patrolling the camp for security with his horse Champagne. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline since first learning about plans for the pipeline in 2014. But its only been in recent months that the issue has gained national attention, as thousands of Water Protectors have gathered in North Dakota in an attempt to block the 1,200-mile project.

By Harmony Lambert (Chumash Nation)

Three weeks ago, I returned from a three-week stint at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Standing Rock. While there, I represented Greenpeace in the most important way the organization could show up: I listened, supported, and helped winterize camp.

I spent my time there with the Indigenous Peoples Power Project (IP3), which is a network of Indigenous trainers across the country that answers the call for direct action and campaigning support of local Indigenous communities; our aim is to put organizing and non-violent direct action tools and tactics in the hands of fellow Indigenous people so they can continue their local struggles for themselves.

In an interview I did recently, I was told that there was little chance that we would win this fight against Dakota Access. And I said that I think — and a lot of others around camp think — that the pipeline project was already dead, the company just didn’t know it yet. It was a bold statement to make, but it was backed up with continued pressure and action against construction on behalf of water protectors and allies in Standing Rock, as well as supporters across the world. Two days later, the Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement that it had denied the easement to Dakota Access.

Every day at camp was filled with new experiences, challenges, strategy meetings, and planning. Almost everything came together the day before or day of, and yet camp and events tended to run smoothly. People were generally happy, laser-focused on stopping the pipeline, and creating a community where everyone looked out for each other. In the weeks I was there, people were intent on building bridges between different camps and working closer together than in the past.

The sense of urgency and need for unity was palpable the closer the pipeline came to completion.

I arrived to a sudden influx of people who had just started answering the call to come to Standing Rock after the violent and disrespectful raid on the 1851 Treaty Camp on October 27th. It was overwhelming in a lot of ways for organizers of specific camps. Many of these newcomers were ill-prepared to deal with winter conditions, didn’t have community to plug into, or didn’t yet know how to be a good ally. But people remained hopeful, and camp absorbed the new water protectors as it had always done. Orientation to camp became crucial.

As part of that orientation, I helped IP3 run daily non-violent direct action trainings, which saw regular attendance between 100-200 people, sometimes more. My Greenpeace ally, who I traveled to Standing Rock with, and I also ran a handful of technical blockades trainings, offered for people who were looking to escalate their tactics in a peaceful way. These trainings reached thousands of people, and the peaceful and prayerful direct actions that resulted were crucial for pressuring the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the permit to Dakota Access to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.

Peaceful direct action meant we were able to keep pressure on both the company behind the pipeline, the banks funding it, and the hearts and minds of people across the country.

Through these trainings, the building of community, and the attention the NoDAPL fight has gotten, the movement to uphold and respect Indigenous rights and sovereignty has grown to a level I’ve never seen. At a small strategy meeting one of my first days at camp, we did a go-around of what we thought was the ultimate goal of camp. A lot of people said “stop the pipeline.” But a few of us went deeper, and I think this sentiment is the most powerful thing coming out of Standing Rock: we have united in a way we haven’t seen before to grow our power as Indigenous peoples.

We’re standing up for what is ours by right, and for what has been taken away from us for hundreds of years now. The unity, strength, and power that has resulted from the Dakota Access protests is unlike anything we’ve seen before. All of our tribal nations’ cultures are different here in the Americas, and historically we haven’t all always gotten along, but this moment has truly brought everyone together. And anyone can feel that unity as they walk down Flag Road at the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

This is the strength and resiliency that we have as Indigenous people. And that is what the Oceti Sakowin Camp and the struggle at Standing Rock has been all about.

For my time spent in North Dakota, the work was hard, the hours were long, and the weather was cold. We would occasionally get tear-gassed, pepper sprayed, have concussion grenades going off next to us, and be chased by the cops down the easement with giant wind socks in tow. But through it all, it was truly an honor to be able to go to Standing Rock and represent Greenpeace in a humble way. Being surrounded by fellow Indigenous water protectors was grounding and allowed for the continued healing of ancestral trauma that many of us in Indian country have to deal with on a daily basis.

And with the announcement from the Army Corps, we can truly say that it worked. The peaceful and prayerful camp at Standing Rock has resulted in a victory in this battle. There will still be work to do as we see this pipeline to the very end, and we will. But for now, this victory belongs to the Indigenous people who organized against Dakota Access in Standing Rock. And for that, Greenpeace thanks you.

Harmony Lambert (Chumash Nation) was raised in Northern California and currently works for Greenpeace USA in Oakland, California. She is part of the Indigenous Peoples Power Project (IP3), as well as a member of the Ruckus Society. Her work centers on indigenous sovereignty and rights, and their intersection with environmentalism. She is a direct action trainer for Greenpeace, as well as other networks.

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