The mass arrest of 127 water protectors on Saturday, October 22 led to the resulting Oceti Sakowin reclamation of 1851 and 1863 Fort Laramie Treaty land in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Heightened tensions in the days that followed culminated in an even more violent clash between militarized law enforcement officers and unarmed water protectors on Thursday, October 27. In the aftermath of that confrontation, in which 141 more people were arrested, protectors at the camps know it is critical now more than ever to remain focused and calm.
Water protectors continue to hold their ground at the Sacred Stone Camp, Oceti Sakowin. They hold their ground in the name of spiritual commitment to ancestors, future generations, water and Mother Earth.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe echoes that sentiment of commitment to protecting all that is sacred, and continues to pursue all legal avenues to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, such as meeting with key leaders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Justice. They continue to press for all permits for the Dakota Access pipeline to be revoked. In the meantime, the Army Corps of Engineers has not granted final permits for Energy Transfer Partners to continue pipeline construction under the Missouri River.
Just five days ago, seemingly an eternity given the flash of recent events that ensued, a panel discussion was held at the Prairie Knights Casino in Standing Rock on October 25. A collection of water protectors gathered to discuss the current situation with the pipeline, the resistance camps, and the many layers of violence that come not just with the Dakota Access Pipeline, but also with the extractive oil industry across the globe. Among those on the panel was special guest, the actor and founder of the Solutions Project, Mark Ruffalo. He spoke passionately about the urgency of a just transition to clean energy, and also spoke to the importance of nonviolence amidst heightening tensions on the ground in Standing Rock.
“Each time they hit us, they lose,” said Ruffalo. “And the more quiet and serene we are, in the depths of that violence, the faster we win. That’s what Gandhi told us … and that is where our strength is. Because we’re right, and they know we’re right.”
Chase Iron Eyes, Hunkpapa Lakota of Standing Rock and candidate for U.S. Congress, lauded Ruffalo’s words and action.
“We’ve had celebrities join us, and we’re very thankful for that,” Iron Eyes said. “And truly, these guys don’t want any of the credit. They’re using their platform to boost the true work of the [water protectors].”
Early in the panel discussion, word came from camp alerting the crowd to the mass escalation of police presence to the north of the camp. While the specifics of the claim had yet to be substantiated, water protectors were on high alert. Such is the nature and energy of life on the ground in Standing Rock: tense, yet grounded by the steadying words of great leaders.
In a conversation, Sacred Stone Camp founder LaDonna Allard stressed an important message to all: “Eyapi sni. Don’t spread gossip,” she said. “We stand with prayer. When we face these types of things, we must stand with a clear mind. We stay calm, and stand, because we are prepared. We pray. That is more powerful than anything else.”
Kandi Mosset, Hidatsa of New Town, North Dakota, and representative of the Indigenous Environmental Network, also underscored the importance of staying in prayer.
“We came here based in ceremony and prayer, and we will continue to meet their violence with our prayer, and we will win,” she said. “They will try and do everything to make us act violently like them, but we refuse.”
Bobbi Jean Three Legs, Hunkpapa Lakota of Standing Rock, also sat on the panel that evening and offered heartfelt words to the crowd. Three Legs was among the original youth runners from Standing Rock who first made personal sacrifices to protect water and future generations, running all the way from Standing Rock to Washington, D.C. in early August.
“All of us grew up around water,” she said. “Lila wopila, thank you all for being here, helping us save our home. When this fight’s over and we win it, we can go help someone else fight their battle, too.”
Her words of purity and love sent strength across the room. Women lilied and men warhooped for Bobbi Jean and the other panel guests. Many wiped tears from their eyes.
I had an opportunity to visit with Bobbi Jean and some other youth after the panel discussion. She, too, echoed the sentiment of many others regarding composure and prayer.
“To all the people that want to come to Standing Rock, emotions are high, but we have to stand strong,” she said. “We have to do it for everybody. I’m scared and I’m angry too, but I know that we’re all here to protect our families and our future generations at home.”
Layha Spoonhunter, Shoshone and Arapaho of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming and a representative of the International Indigenous Youth Council, spoke with a gentle wisdom, characteristic of many of the youth in camp. Spoonhunter has been on the ground in Standing Rock for the last two months.
“This continues to be a movement of prayer and peace,” he said. “Always remember that we are protecting for the next seven generations. It’s important to remember that we always have to rely on prayer and even conduct ourselves when we feel threatened. It’s not easy, but it’s what we have to do, especially if we want to win.”
The consensus is in, relatives: Stay vigilant, stay focused, and stay prayerful. This is how we are going to win.
As the North Dakota government continues to invest great resources in the militarization of law enforcement in order to complete one of the most contested oil pipelines in history, a pattern of strongarm and unethical tactics continues to unfold, with all signs pointing to their collusion with Energy Transfer Partners and the Dakota Access Pipeline. This ongoing pattern, while unfortunate and at times even terrifying, is to the benefit of water protectors.
And while the Morton Count Sheriff’s Department and the North Dakota government have clearly positioned themselves on the side of Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners, support of the water protectors also continues to mount, reaching far beyond North Dakota borders, and far beyond American borders. The state of North Dakota should be concerned that the world really is watching, and water protectors stay firmly positioned on the high road.
Dallas Goldtooth, Dakota and also Dine’ of the Indigenous Environmental Network, addressed the crowd of water protectors attending the panel discussion: “This movement is contagious. Our prayer is contagious. Our love is contagious,” he said.
“It’s important to focus on prayer, and our intention. This is a time for our warriors to stand up, but do it with peace, and dignified rage,” he said. “We can’t be short-sighted in our struggle, because we’re going to lose [that way]. We can’t act like we’re in a sprint, when we’re really in a marathon.”